Community

Shortly after two teens were shot Thursday evening during the annual Pegasus Parade, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer stood before a gaggle of news cameras and reporters, firmly disavowing the violence.

Fischer talked regretfully about the broader problem of gun violence in society, the need to prevent access to illegal guns, and the ease with which young people are pulling the trigger.

He said Louisville is a safe city, despite local police reporting recently that shootings and homicides are spiking this year. That’s after 2015, in which police tallied a near 40-year high in the city’s homicide count.

The mayor rarely moves so quickly to hold a press conference in direct response to a shooting in Louisville. His spokesman did not respond to an inquiry about the last time he held such a news conference after an individual shooting.

To be clear, the shooting at the parade was unusual in that it took place at a high-profile public event. Fischer and Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad — who also appeared at the Thursday night news conference — were clearly trying to prevent panic during the city’s busiest, most tourist-friendly weekend.

If Fischer did publicly address each shooting in the city, he’d probably wear himself out, said Dr. Eddie Woods, a community activist and expert on youth behavior at the Neighborhood House, a community center in the Portland neighborhood that serves low-income families and kids.

But it’s an intriguing question: What if the mayor and other city leaders held high-profile, public media events to denounce violence every time there was a shooting in Louisville? Would it dampen violent crime, or just bring more latent attention to an ever-growing problem?

‘The way we got mad about drunk driving’

Through the end of March, according to Louisville Metro Police Department data, there were just more than 100 shootings in Louisville. Nearly 40 of them resulted in fatalities.

Woods said even if Fischer did hold a press conference after each shooting in Louisville, it would do little to diminish violent crime. He said most young people toting guns aren’t watching the news. And the ones who are don’t care what the mayor or other city officials have to say.

“They obviously … did not even care that the police are right in direct proximity to them,” he said, referring to the Pegasus Parade shooting.

Publicizing shootings could lead to even more people pulling the trigger, Woods said.

“It becomes a notary game, it becomes the thing of ‘how do I get on the news,'” he said.

But some experts think more efforts to publicly respond to shootings could help reduce the occurrence of such violent acts. Sam Bieler studies gun violence at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that studies economic and social policies. He said there can be a direct benefit in highlighting individual instances of violence.

“Particularly, I think that’s true in communities that often don’t receive the kind of policy attention that they really should, and they need to if we are going to address gun violence,” he said.

Failing to publicly condemn shootings, wherever they happen, can lead to the belief that “the larger city isn’t particularly interested,” Bieler said.

Publicly showing that violence is not acceptable and consistently casting negative attention toward it can create a perception that a city won’t tolerate it. He said the everyday violence plaguing many communities gripped with poverty, unemployment and crumbling infrastructure is often overlooked, accepted and considered unimportant to “the broad spectrum of the American people.”

“Every shooting is absolutely devastating, it’s a tragedy for the community that experiences it, and they all deserve that attention,” Bieler said.

Giving everyday violence the same public shame as mass shootings or other violent incidents at highly publicized events can help reshape the dialogue around what policy changes are needed to stop the steady stream of murders happening every day across the country, Bieler said.

But it takes more than just press conferences with the mayor, Bieler said. There must be systemic change, and an entire community needs to band together — elected officials, community leaders, mothers, fathers, young people — and call out criminal elements to really activate a moral authority.

This idea of creating a sense of social solidarity is key in responding to violence, said Ryan Schroeder, an associate professor and chair of the University of Louisville’s sociology department. Schroeder studies crime and why people commit heinous acts of violence.

He said while press conferences themselves may do little to prevent future violence, they can help set precedent of what society sees as wrong. They can also provide the public comfort and bring people together in anger, disgust or support for victims.

But it’s unclear how a more unified society could help lessen violence in the future, he said.

“A press conference or publicity for a crime or punishment is more about increasing social solidarity, not about preventing future violence,” he said. “I am hesitant to say that society coming together will actually reduce or deter future violence.”

Woods, with the Neighborhood House in Louisville, said to enact any real change, society must come together in a concerted effort to engage young people on the brink of crime. Also, systemic violence calls for systemic response — in schools and community centers, on playgrounds and after-school programs.

Beyond that, Woods said, people from across the city need to get angry when they hear about shootings and respond with action, not talk.

“Everybody needs to get mad the way we got mad about cancer, the way we got mad about drunk driving,” he said. “If everybody gets mad like that, we’ve got  shot of turning this thing around.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.