‘Don’t Shoot’ idea aims to curtail gun violence

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

A new approach to stopping gun violence stresses conversation and cooperation, not registration or retribution, and this month Peoria is launching the program: “Don’t Shoot.”

The program comes close to reconciliation, a progressive technique tied to institutions and individuals ranging from the church to Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

However, it’s not a one-sided appeal to criminals, says Peoria prosecutor Jerry Brady.

“ ‘Don’t Shoot’ is distinct from retribution,” he says, “but it’s not a carrot/stick program; it’s not ‘please.’ It’s focused deterrence, simply saying, ‘Change the behavior or there will be consequences.’”

Nationally, the consequences of gun violence are severe and almost routine, apart from high-profile mass murders like this summer’s massacres in Oak Creek, Wis., and Aurora, Colo. Each year, there are about 30,000 gun deaths and 300,000 gun-related assaults in the United States, costing the country upwards of $100 billion annually.

And the killing isn’t confined to large or medium-size cities.

 “There are out-of-control drug markets all over the country; they’re spreading,” writes author David Kennedy in his book, “Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and The End of Violence in Inner City America.”

 “When I started it was all core urban stuff, but not anymore,” he says. “It’s been moving into the small towns for years.”

Kennedy offers a new take on what it takes to stop gun violence. Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Kennedy writes that the “Don’t Shoot” program has cut violence across the country and is being tried in more than 70 cities. Kennedy’s book tracks his background as a self-taught criminologist who created a program during Boston’s crack epidemic, which cut youth homicide by two-thirds, to the development of what became the “Don’t Shoot” program. Riding with police, sitting with people and talking with gang members, Kennedy realized that all parties misunderstood the others. His approach is to get everyone, from gang members to cops to local residents, to join together in one giant intervention, and it’s working: Violence drops, drug markets dry up and relationships between police and communities are reset.

“There are a number of people alive in Peoria today that would not be alive if it were not for the work of the ‘Don’t Shoot Team’ or Task Force officers,” Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard recently said about his prelude to the “Don’t Shoot” program.

The concept has been praised elsewhere.

“The subtitle for this book — ‘The End of Violence in Inner-City America’ — would be pretentious if it were not for the indisputable evidence, compelling true stories and common sense solutions detailed therein,” said Rockford minister Kenneth Edward Copeland of the New Zion Baptist Church there. “Bottom line: This works.”

One obstacle is the media-fueled impression that crime is up.

“Crime is not running wild,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston. “The rich have gotten richer and safer, but neither can be said for the nation’s urban poor.”

The key to “Don’t Shoot” is in the community, Kennedy says, and there are three distinct communities interacting: the community in the neighborhoods, law enforcement and the subculture of the street community, exemplified in gangs.

“As long as the community of the streets sees itself as righteous and justified, the killing will continue,” Kennedy writes. “As long as the community of the streets sees its own neighborhoods as approving, it will continue. As long as the streets see the police as racist and hateful, it will continue. It’s all wrong.

“They are, all of them, dealing as best they can with a world they did not make,” he adds. “Deal with them, however, and something nearly magical happens. Humanity emerges, common ground appears, common interests manifest, common sense can finally prevail.”

Kennedy says that successfully curtailing gun violence hinges on closing drug markets.

 “More than anything else, the moral panic nonsense misses the mark because it’s all about use,” Kennedy said. “Crack use, drug use, has never been the real drug problem. Crack markets, drug markets, are the problem.”

Citizens throughout the county have a vested interest, Brady adds.

“There’s another attraction,” he says. “We all know the state of Illinois is short on revenue and population is increasing and incarceration is increasing. Focused deterrence like this means we don’t have to house offenders.”

Kennedy writes, “We once locked crazy people in stone buildings and chained them to walls. We look back at that now and say, ‘What were they thinking? They did that?’ We can get there. We can make our way to a place where we look back at 2.2 million Americans in prison and say, ‘What were they thinking? They did that?’”

 Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; columns archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com