Amid rising gun violence in the city, Republican members of Louisville Metro Council are holding a series of town halls to discuss the issue. They started with a meeting in east Louisville Tuesday night.
The town halls are meant to bring politicians, public safety officials and community leaders together to discuss what the city is doing to address the growing number of homicides. Officials are also taking questions and suggestions from the public. The first meeting was at the University of Louisville’s ShelbyHurst campus.
Louisville has so far seen more than 150 homicides in 2021, compared to 122 by the same time last year. Twenty-one of the homicide victims were under the age of 18.
Christopher 2X, an anti-violence activist and head of the nonprofit Game Changers, was a panelist at the town hall. He told attendees that the community needs to invest more in early childhood intervention for kids who routinely deal with the trauma of gun violence.
“Even if these kids have never picked up a gun … we believe that they have been subjected to so much of this negativity as it relates to violent crime, especially in these underserved communities, it’s well worth putting your time and effort into them,” he said.
Alongside medical students from U of L, 2X recently created a youth intervention program called Future Healers. The program provides learning and mentorship opportunities to children exposed to gun violence in their community or their family.
2X said that kind of trauma can have a big impact on kids’ learning and future attainment.
“Today there are kids who’ve never been hit by gunfire that are being impacted in Jefferson County,” he said. “When they try to segue back into the school space, it’s hard for them to focus and learn.”
Louisville’s Chief of Community Building Keith Talley also addressed the need to invest in what he called the root causes of violence. He said arresting people is just tackling the symptom.
Talley said ending gun violence will require an approach that focuses on intervention and investment in impacted communities.
Many of the questions from the audience at Tuesday’s meeting focused on Louisville’s new Group Violence Intervention program. That initiative brings together law enforcement and social services to provide counseling, addiction treatment or job training resources to victims and people believed to be at risk of engaging in violence. The Group Violence Intervention initiative began operation earlier this year.
City officials say the program has led to dramatic decreases in violent crime in cities like Cincinnati, Stockton, Calif., and Boston.
Chief Erika Shields told attendees that the Louisville Metro Police Department is also taking a focused approach to stemming the violence. Shields said police believe a small number of people are committing many of the shootings.
She said much of the violence is “senseless.”
“It may be retaliation for something on social media, it may be looking at someone’s girlfriend wrong,” she said.
Shields said the role of law enforcement is to disrupt gang violence and get some of the worst perpetrators put in jail.
“We have to lock in on the most violent individuals and hold them accountable,” she said. “They’re not going to change their behavior with a hug, in all likelihood.”
Shields said there need to be more alternatives to jail for the majority of people who commit crimes because “they just need an opportunity” or because of mental health issues.
Tuesday’s town hall was hosted by Metro Council’s Republican caucus, including Chair Anthony Piagentini. He was part of a bipartisan three-member group that sent an open letter to Mayor Greg Fischer last month, asking him to take urgent action on gun violence. Among other measures, the group asked Fischer to immediately deploy public safety officers and mental health professionals to schools.
“We have lost a level of coordination with these High Schools that, in the past, resulted in preventative measures before violence got out of hand,” the letter read.
The group also called on Fischer to put out a plan for dealing with LMPD’s understaffing, work with the state to reopen the juvenile detention facility in Jefferson County and provide regular public updates on what the city is doing to address the crisis.
The Republican caucus is planning to hold another meeting in southeast Jefferson County next month.