More than 400 people attended the city of Gainesville’s first-ever gun violence summit. Here’s a recap:
2-day gun violence summit
The summit, held Sunday and Monday, was designed to give residents and local officials an opportunity to discuss and develop ways to end rising gun violence in Gainesville and Alachua County. The “Choose Peace: Gun Violence Must Cease” summit was held at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center.
Gun violence rising
Between July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022, there were a total of 131 shootings locally, including homicides. That number rose to 154 during the same time frame from 2022 to 2023, according to the Gainesville Police Department.
First day of summit
Billed as “Community Day,” the first day of the summit featured a panel discussion, resource fair, breakout sessions and a youth town hall meeting.
“I was impressed by the representation of organizations who wanted to come out in response to the clarion call of gun violence being a public health crisis,” said Gainesville City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who represents District 1. “The youth must have a voice and the opportunity to address gun violence. Having them at the table and being involved in the decision making is what we need.”
Duncan-Walker, whose district is comprised of almost all of East Gainesville, said her plans to address gun violence include creating a youth-led task force where peers in the same age group can support one another and designating an office to focus solely on gun violence and how to overcome it.
She also said she will focus on the community getting reacquainted with a group called The Interrupters and seeks to have the program continue getting funding from the state.
It is a group of advocates and caseworkers who specialize in mediation to prevent gun violence.
“What we’re dealing with is a culture of violence,” Duncan-Walker said. “We need meaningful systems which will create the infrastructure we need to reduce gun violence. These plans we’re talking about don’t need to fall flat. We need to create something sustainable for our communities.”
Second day of summit
The second day of the summit was billed “Policy Day,” and featured officials discussing strategic ways to implement policies to decrease gun violence.
Officials participated in a series of breakout sessions that focused on public health, healthcare and social services, elected officials, public safety and judicial system stakeholders, educators and school administrators and business and civic community members.
The panelists were Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott; Zeriah Folston, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the city of Gainesville; Gainesville City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut; Melvena Wilson, director of the Center for Advocacy and Research on Health Equity; Pastor Karl Anderson of Upper Room Ministries; and Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward, who served as moderator of the panel.
“I’m very encouraged,” Ward said. “I took a lot of notes. People here had the opportunity to talk about their concerns, fears and dreams. We got the right people in the room to make an impact. I am pleased with our staff.”
Ward said he looks forward to meeting officials and community members again in the future to discuss the ideas and strategies that were implemented and how to improve on them.
“We will discuss in commission meetings what was worthwhile and what we can do differently,” Ward said.
Chestnut said one of the main ways to reduce gun violence is to create policies from a holistic viewpoint to ensure adults and children benefit.
“If you fix the child and not the family, you didn’t achieve anything,” Chestnut said. “We must go into the communities, reach out to families and give them the resources they need.”
Anderson said supporting programs that are currently in place to help the youth is important. Examples include the Brave Overt Leaders of Distinction (B.O.L.D.) program, the Ceasefire Project and the Children’s Trust of Alachua County.
The B.O.L.D. program aims to render intensive services to help the lives of young men the ages of 16-24 who need professional guidance in addressing their life situations and circumstances.
Anderson said the Ceasefire Project is where clergy and GPD officers work with youth on probation to create a better future.
“We have to meet the kids where they are,” Anderson said.
Folston said providing education to residents and prioritizing early childhood development is another way to reduce gun violence.
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Ariel Cathcart, manager of mayoral outreach at Everytown for Gun Safety, was the keynote speaker on Monday.
“Without the community being present,” policies cannot be successful,” Cathcart said. “I want to emphasize the need to collaborate. It is important to work together, leverage our resources and implement life saving policies.”
Everytown for Gun Safety is a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence. It was formed in 2013 due to a merger between Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, according to its website, www.everytown.org.
Cathcart mentioned a model called the Cleveland Neighborhood Safety Fund and described how the city of Cleveland plans to use the funds to reduce gun violence.
“When people show up, more transformative things happen,” Cathcart said.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: ‘Choose Peace: Gun Violence Must Cease’ summit held in Gainesville