I am a leader in the ICARE organization, an interfaith organization dedicated to solving serious community problems. Our 38 congregations represent different religious, racial, political and economic backgrounds from all over Northeast Florida. I am concerned about the serious problem of rampant and growing violence in our community. Shootings and homicides have risen consistently over the past decade and violent crime rates in Jacksonville are much higher than the rest of Florida. A couple in my church experienced this problem personally.
They were at home one Sunday afternoon after church in their quiet, senior neighborhood in Northwest Jacksonville, where they have lived for over 30 years. Their daughter was visiting with them. It was just getting dark when suddenly they heard the sound of gunshots. They lay on the floor as they heard the sound of glass shattering from bullets coming into the house. When it was finally over, they found two bullets – one in a piece of furniture, the other on the floor. By the grace of God, all who were in the house that day were spared.
If someone had been sitting near the window, they would have been shot. Around 25 bullets were fired from people in a car shooting at a house across from theirs and from the people in the house shooting back. Since then, there was a shooting further down the street, and a bullet hit their front door.
Now, when they hear cars going down the street, they are immediately on guard. Are they going to hear shots? Will there be another killing?
One of our leaders experienced this violence directly. Within the last month, two shootings have happened in her neighborhood. She can see both houses from her front porch. Two people were killed just down the street from her house. She feels unsafe and scared in her own home. No one should have to feel this way.
These stories are disturbing. Violence is tearing our entire community apart and something must be done. ICARE has done research and learned that a program called Group Violence Intervention, or GVI, was being used across the country to reduce shootings and homicides. Other cities have implemented GVI and reduced shootings and homicides. GVI directs the community’s focus on the one percent or less of the population who are driving the violence while delivering the message, “We want you safe, alive, and free, but the shooting must stop.”
They pledge an offer of assistance and support for those ready to change their behavior and a promise of a swift federal, state, and local law enforcement response for continued violence. When implemented with fidelity, GVI almost guarantees success as it has been proven empirically over the past 20 years to reduce gun violence.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has a GVI program. They are working to reduce shootings and homicides. At our Nehemiah Assembly on March 28 at 6:45pm, ICARE will ask the Sheriff to take some next steps to strengthen our city’s GVI program. We pray that our assembly will be fruitful. We pray that JSO leaders will work to build trust and implement effective practices. We pray for an end to violence.
Alice Harmon, member of Second Missionary Baptist and ICARE leader
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Something must be done about growth in violence in our community