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New York Becomes First State to Declare Gun Violence a Public Health Crisis

New York State has adopted the Community Violence Intervention Act as part of its latest budget
gun violence, anti-gun violence, march, protest
NYC Gun Violence Prevention Day. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

New York will now fund gun violence intervention programs in a major victory for community policing advocates.

The State adopted the Community Violence Intervention Act as part of its 2021-22 State Budget on Tuesday, becoming the first state in the country to declare gun violence a public health crisis and establishing a fund for violence intervention and interruption programs.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie said the move sent an unmistakable message: "gun violence is an epidemic in communities across New York State, and we must take a proactive approach to address it." 

Senator Zellnor Myrie helped path the way for the new violence prevention bill. Photo by Jackson Ibelle for BK Reader

"Violence intervention and interruption programs have a research-based, proven model for breaking the cycle of handgun violence that plagues our streets and takes the life of an estimated one in forty Black boys in America," he said in a statement.

The budget commits $10 million to hospital-based violence intervention programs and community-based violence interruption programs, and dedicates 10% of New York's federally-funded Victims of Crime Act funding to these groups in future years.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City has been plagued by a spike in gun violence, where the number of shooting victims year-on-year jumped more than 100% as of the last week in October. The spike has been attributed in part to the pandemic, political unrest and economic depression. 

The rise in gun violence has come in hand-in-hand with increasing calls to defund the NYPD and reallocate some its budget to violence prevention and social service agencies.

Myrie said in the statement the programs provided a credible, non-police response to gun violence, and had a "remarkable track record" of success in the communities most vulnerable to gun violence.

"We cannot depend on one-time grants and unpredictable funding streams to solve a generational threat to public health," he said. "This crisis demands a consistent investment in solutions that work."

He added he was proud the state would become a national leader in holistically addressing the "gun violence emergency in communities like the ones I represent."

Elite Learners Violence Interrupters
Elite Learners' runs anti-violence programs in Brooklyn. Photo: Provided.

Assemblymember Diana Richardson said the borough was fortunate to have a number of violence prevention groups working on the ground, directly with the community, to stop shootings before they occurred.

"Gun violence is a public health crisis in Brooklyn and other communities across the state," she said, adding she was proud to have led the fight to give the groups tackling the issue the resources they needed.

When certain Brooklyn communities experienced a sudden uptick in gun violence last year, Brownsville-based Elite Leaners dispatched its violence interrupters to assist law enforcement in keeping their community safe. Crews put on their protective masks and patrolled hotspots where gang members usually hung out.

Many of the organization's violence interrupters are former gang members who were incarcerated. Now, they are key components of Elite Learners' anti-gun violence mentorship and conflict resolution program for at-risk juveniles and gang-affiliated young adults.

Camara Jackson, founder and executive director of Elite Learners, Inc., said the communities the group served were "in desperate need of steady funding sources," and securing the funds allowed the group to provide "critical services in a critical and unprecedented time."

"The fact that the funding will be allocated in this year's fiscal budget is a blessing for groups that provide vital on the ground services to communities that experience senseless loss of life due to gun violence," Jackson said.