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Blaire White on Black Lives Matter
Deanne Fitzmaurice for ProPublica How the Gun Control Debate Ignores Black Lives By failing to talk about the majority of gun murder victims — black men — politicians and advocates are missing the chance to save lives. They had been invited by the Obama administration to talk about what the country should do to address gun violence. Vice President Joe Biden had been meeting with victims and advocates all day, and he arrived so late that some in the room wondered whether he would come at all. When he finally walked in, the clergy started sharing their advice, full of pain, some of it personal. He supported an assault weapons ban. But he also wanted something else: In , 90 people were killed in shootings like the ones in Newtown and Aurora , Colorado. That same year, nearly 6, black men were murdered with guns. Many people viewed inner-city shootings as an intractable problem. But for two years, McBride had been spreading awareness about Ceasefire, a nearly two-decades-old strategy that had upended how police departments dealt with gang violence. Under Ceasefire, police teamed up with community leaders to identify the young men most at risk of shooting someone or being shot, talked to them directly about the risks they faced, offered them support, and promised a tough crackdown on the groups that continued shooting. In Boston, the city that developed Ceasefire, the average monthly number of youth homicides dropped by 63 percent in the two years after it was launched. McBride wanted President Obama to make Ceasefire and similar programs part of his post-Newtown push to reduce gun violence. His pitch to Biden that day was even simpler: In response, the vice president agreed urban violence was very important, McBride said. Michael McBride, a pastor who has been pushing the president and other politicians to increase support for programs like Ceasefire. There was no political will in the country to address inner-city violence. This is your own recommendation. You should do it! But as horrific as these massacres are, by most counts they represent less than 1 percent of all gun homicides. Gun control advocates and politicians frequently cite the statistic that more than 30 Americans are murdered with guns every day. Avoiding that fact has consequences. Twenty years of government-funded research has shown there are several promising strategies to prevent murders of black men, including Ceasefire. What they need — and often struggle to get — is political support and a bit of money. President Obama signs executive actions on gun violence soon after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. His gun platform included no money for the targeted urban violence strategies his own Justice Department described as effective. He called for universal background checks, which experts say could prevent some shootings. Other key elements of his plan — a ban on assault weapons and funding to put police officers in schools — were unlikely to save a significant number of lives. At the press conference where Obama announced the plan, a diverse group of four children sat on the podium with him: McBride, who was in the audience, said he was not surprised. In , the gun homicide rate for white Americans was 2 per , — about seven times as high as the rate for residents of Denmark, but a fraction of the rate for black Americans. In , black Americans faced a gun homicide rate of nearly 15 per , The problem is black criminality, which is a function of black pathology, which ultimately stems from the breakdown of the black family. In Oakland, for instance, crime experts working with the police department a few years ago found that about 1, active members of a few dozen street groups drove most homicides. And even within this subgroup, risk fluctuated according to feuds and other beefs. In practical terms, the experts found that over a given stretch of several months only about 50 to men are at the highest risk of shooting someone or getting shot. Via the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most of these men have criminal records. These insights led a group of Boston police, black ministers and academics to try a new approach in Since group dynamics were driving the violence, they decided to hold the groups accountable. The plan was simple: Identify the small groups of young men most likely to shoot or be shot. Call them in to meet face-to-face with police brass, former gang members, clergy and social workers. Explain to the invitees that they were at high risk of dying. Promise an immediate crackdown on every member of the next group that put a body on the ground — and immediate assistance for everyone who wanted help turning their lives around. Then follow up on those promises. The results of Operation Ceasefire were dramatic. Soon after Boston held its first meeting — known as a call-in — on May 15, , homicides of young men plummeted along with reports of shots fired. Jeff Brown, one of the ministers who worked on the project, remembers people were outside more, barbecuing in the park. At Halloween, kids were able to trick-or-treat on the streets again. The team behind the effort quickly started getting calls from other cities — even other countries — about how to replicate what became known as the Boston Miracle. Bush, many cities tried the strategy and some got dramatic results. Stockton saw a 42 percent reduction in monthly gun homicides over several years. Indianapolis experienced a 34 percent drop in monthly homicides. Lowell, Massachusetts, saw gun assaults fall by 44 percent. A review of the existing research evidence found that seven of eight cities that had rigorously implemented Ceasefire and similar strategies had seen reductions in violence. Other cities have tried Ceasefire, or half-tried it, and then abandoned it. The strategy requires resources, political buy-in, and ongoing trust between unlikely partners. There was infighting and the police official who led it got another assignment. In subsequent years, homicides of young men crept up again. An endless number of variables can affect crime, making it hard to know how much a particular effort works. Jeff Brown, third from right, leads a prayer with fellow clergy and law enforcement officials, including police Commissioner William Evans, second from left, before participating in a weekly peace walk. Gretchen Ertl for ProPublica Part of what seems to make Ceasefire effective is that it treats the men it targets as both dangerous and also in need of help. Such initiatives, however, fit into no political camp and thus have few powerful champions. It makes everybody uncomfortable. To buy into Ceasefire, McBride had to weigh the data against his own experience. In , as a college student studying theology, McBride was stopped as he drove home by two white San Jose police officers. He said they forced him to get out of his car, groped him, and made him lie on the ground while threatening him. That night, he was just another black man lying on the ground. When McBride moved to Berkeley in , fresh out of divinity school at Duke University, he thought he would focus his social justice work on education — mentoring young people struggling to graduate from high school. Then a few of the young people he was mentoring were murdered. Spencer was shot to death outside a liquor store in nearby Oakland. McBride asked the congregation how many had attended a funeral before. Everyone raised their hands. How many had been to two funerals? He continued to count upward. Many of them were skeptical, but McBride thought working with the police was crucial. In , Oakland recommitted itself to Ceasefire. It hired a full-time manager for the program, using both city dollars and part of a Justice Department grant. The city also dedicated funds to work with a team of experts who had helped other cities implement Ceasefire. The experts helped Oakland do a detailed data analysis homing in on the men who needed to be called in. Murders dropped from in to 90 in , according to police department data. Last year, Oakland had 80 murders. McBride traveled across the country as part of a national campaign to reduce urban violence using Ceasefire. Every city had its own challenges. Money was one of them. Ceasefire was not particularly expensive, but hiring outreach workers and providing social services to the men involved required a little support, as did hiring outside consultants. Outside funding also made it easier for city leaders to move ahead with a different approach to gun violence. The Obama administration has several grant programs aimed at helping urban neighborhoods reduce violence, but the demand for grants far outstrips funding. For one grant, the Justice Department received over applications and had money for just You just have to empower it through a relatively small amount of money to help them get the program started. Advocates of Ceasefire have tried to press Congress for more money. Declines in violent crime over the last two decades have made it harder to galvanize support for gun violence prevention. The number of Americans murdered by guns peaked in , then dropped sharply until for reasons that are still not fully understood. Since then, the number of Americans killed in gun homicides has remained remarkably consistent, about 11, to 12, a year. About half of those killed this way are black men, though they make up just 6 percent of the U. In , when George W. Bush took office, 5, black men were murdered with firearms, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In , it was 5,
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