Community

Anthony Smith travels the country on a quest to put an end to violence.

The former director of the city’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods is now head of Cities United, a group founded by mayors, for mayors in cities where violence is a problem.

Smith meets with city officials and community leaders, and shares advice and thoughts on how to address root causes of violence to keep more people — specifically African-American men and boys — alive and out of prison.

This week, he’ll take part in a Festival of Faiths discussion focused on the economic factors behind violence. In an interview with WFPL News, he said investing in neighborhoods can provide resources to help break cycles of violence and provide residents with opportunities to succeed.

Violence consumes communities, he said, when resources are stripped or withheld and residents struggle to find jobs. Take Russell, the neighborhood stretching west from Ninth Street to 32nd Street and south from Market Street to Broadway.

Louisville police reported more than 60 gunshot incidents through the end of February, data show. Russell had nearly double the number of gunshot incidents as any other neighborhood in the city so far this year, according to the data.

File photo

Anthony Smith

A 2014 report from the defunct Network Center for Community Change showed the uemployment rate in Russell was 30 percent. The poverty rate was nearly 60 percent, per the report.

“If we’re really serious, then we’ll be creating employment pipelines that are long-term opportunities for these young folks,” Smith said.

Investment can’t come without political will and support from the communities outside the areas where crime is more prevalent. Smith said people must have tough conversations about systemic and structural racism, elements that led to the segregation of neighborhoods and the elimination of or disregard for investment.

“There’s going to have to be a lot of folks who don’t live in West Louisville or any of these other communities across the country, to pause long enough to say, ‘we care about these kids just as much as we care about any other child,'” he said.

After all, Smith said, the victims and suspects of crimes are often young people.

Nearly half of all homicide suspects are between the age of 18 and 24 years, according to police data through the end of February. Most victims are younger than 34 years old, data show.

“We’ve got to make sure our young kids see a future,” he said. “They have a bright future.”

Smith sees the way we perceive violence as part of the problem. He said our public systems should be treating violence as a public health problem — the way we see opioid addiction, for instance. And race, he said, plays a big role in that.

“I think folks don’t want to see this as a public health issue,” he said.

In Louisville, police have reported more than 30 homicides this year, according to a recent report from The Courier-Journal. And last year’s homicide tally was an all-time high.

Some city officials are calling for more police to address the issue. To Smith, that isn’t the answer.

“We’ve got to get our schools right, we’ve got to get housing right, we need to get employment right,” he said. “And we’ve got to make sure our young kids see a future.”

Smith will appear as part of “Compassion and Economics: The Real Bottom Line,” a discussion scheduled for 2 p.m. on April 19 at the Festival of Faiths. Other panelists include David Muhammad,  Aruni Bhatnagar,  Congressman John Yarmuth, and Sadiqa Reynolds.

Jacob Ryan is the Metro Affairs reporter for WFPL.