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For years, community groups, advocates, and researchers have been asking for more government help in fighting the daily drumbeat of gun violence in American cities. One of those places is Baltimore, the city I call home, where the urgent demands for public safety permeate much of social and political life. 

The city’s chronically high gun violence was a defining issue in last year’s mayor’s race, which was won by the subject of my new article, 36-year-old Brandon Scott. A Baltimore native, Scott cut his teeth in the city’s activist community before going on to the city council and then the mayor’s office. He ran on a platform of treating gun violence with tools borrowed from public health and has laid out an ambitious plan to stop the city from marking its seventh straight year of 300-plus homicides. But he faces huge political challenges, an ossified culture in City Hall, and resistance from the Baltimore Police Department.

Baltimore has dabbled with various public health approaches to fighting gun violence before, only to abandon them in favor of more expedient solutions that produced little lasting peace. Scott says he wants to break the pattern by building a more sustainable strategy. “The city failed twice in implementing group violence intervention because they had sticks and no carrots,” he told me. 

To formulate his plan, Scott returned to his roots, engaging the city’s vibrant activist community. One of the members of the committee the mayor’s office assembled was Dante Barksdale, an outreach worker who had been a friend and mentor to Scott as a younger man. During a January meeting, Scott reflected on Barksdale’s influence on him: “He didn’t want any of us to get comfortable in this work because there is so much work to be done.” Scott wants violence interrupters like Barksdale to play a bigger role in reducing shootings, without the interference from the Baltimore police they’ve encountered in the past. 

But before Scott had even formally unveiled his blueprint, Barksdale himself was killed in a shooting. His life and death illustrate both the challenge the city faces in reducing violence, and the resilience Baltimore displays in the face of repeated tragedies. 

For Scott, it was a reminder that the city needs an even deeper commitment to reducing gun violence with all the tools available to its government. How well he performs in implementing his plan will have major implications not just for the city he leads, but for a public health model of gun violence prevention that has never been tested at the scale he intends to pursue. 

You can read my story here. —J. Brian Charles, reporter

President Biden is considering several executive actions on guns, including background checks for buyers of ghost gun parts, per Politico. 

At his Senate confirmation hearing, attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, who prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing, pledged to prioritize the fight against domestic terrorism, starting with the U.S. Capitol insurrection. 

“Black officers fought a different battle”: Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police spoke with The New York Times about facing down a mob that included white supremacists hurling racial slurs. 

In testimony related to the NRA’s bankruptcy case, CEO Wayne LaPierre said that Texas officials have dangled financial incentives to sweeten the NRA’s proposed move to the state. The gun group has now countersued New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleging political interference related to the state’s dissolution case.

“Stand your ground” laws don’t reduce violent crime, according to a systematic review of existing research. The author of a Rand Corporation metastudy on the laws echoed the findings, telling us, “It's nice to see that they reach similar conclusions.” Related: Arkansas could soon become the 29th state to enact a stand your ground law, which removes a person’s duty to retreat before using deadly force.

Black men between the ages of 15 and 34 have 20 times the rate of gun homicides experienced by white men in the same age range, according to an analysis of the CDC’s most recent mortality data.

Last year’s historic homicide spike likely wasn’t due to protests consuming police departments’ resources, or fewer arrests for low-level crimes, according to a data analysis published by The Intercept. The takeaway throws cold water on two popular theories floated by the police and their supporters. What might have been a driver? Declining community trust in the police, one expert said.

Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell reintroduced legislation that would study best practices for removing guns from domestic abusers and offer federal grant money to local governments ready to fix their systems. Under federal law, anyone who is the subject of a permanent protective order, or who has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime, is barred from having a gun. But very few jurisdictions do a good job of removing the guns when they are supposed to. “In some states the relinquishment is swift, in others it’s done on the honors system or doesn’t happen at all,” Swalwell told Ann Givens in an interview.

The Illinois governor signed a wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill that will outfit every police officer with a body camera, require officers to intervene if their colleagues use excessive force, and assign special prosecutors for police killings in Chicago’s Cook County.

📺On Fox Soul, Lakeidra Chavis discussed her reporting on the rise of Black suicides. 📺 Lakeidra appeared on The Tammi Mac Late Show to talk about the spike in Chicago that she first reported on last summer. Six months after city and county officials pledged to address the problem, Lakeidra checked in and found that the promised prevention plans were still MIA. “Suicide is a small window into a much bigger mental health crisis,” she said. [If you are having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.]
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Violence intervention programs have shown the potential to prevent shootings in cities across the country. But they often lack reliable funding, making it difficult to build up programs over the long haul and leaving administrators scrambling to plug budget holes from year to year. In New York, state lawmakers have crafted a possible fix. 

A bill introduced last week would allow street-level and hospital-based violence interruption programs to access a federal fund earmarked for supporting survivors of violent crimes. The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), administered through the Justice Department’s Office of Victims Services, gives states grants that are used to reimburse victims for direct costs stemming from their ordeals, and also funds programs that provide services to persons affected by a crime. Having access to an additional revenue stream via the federal program “would enable these groups to have longer-term stability and adapt to emerging trends and community needs,” state Senator Zellnor Myrie, who is spearheading the measure, told me in an email. 

Many years, a significant share of VOCA funds go unspent, as The Trace has reported. In 2016, the year bill’s sponsors cite, VOCA sent New York nearly $134 million, but only $10.9 million of it was distributed. That left nearly $123 million remaining. Myrie says a state's unspent VOCA funds, by law, must be returned to the federal Crime Victims Fund. His proposal would set aside $10 million in VOCA funds for violence interruption programs each year, or 10 percent of New York’s total award, whichever sum is greater.

As Gothamist reported this week, the plan has received pushback from Pat Lynch, the firebrand leader of New York City’s largest police union. But Myrie says most officers support violence interruption groups, even sometimes letting them take the lead in patrolling violent hotspots.

“The NYPD rank-and-file understands that a one-size-fits-all approach to solving the gun violence epidemic isn't smart, efficient or safe,” Myrie said. “We already have the credible messengers who can and do reach these young people every day — we just need to fund them.” —Jennifer Mascia, news writer

Alberto Flores, 16, was fatally shot while walking to a park in Chicago on February 21. Known as “Beto” to loved ones, he was a plant lover who had worked at a tree-cutting company and wanted to open his own plant shop one day, according to a GoFundMe campaign. This summer, he planned to attend a college of his choice for two weeks as part of the Summer of a Lifetime program. One of his teachers called him “sweet and loving” and said, “Sometimes, we didn't agree on things, but I always saw his spirit.” Beto loved team sports and had a talent for performing. “You had a great singing voice,” one mourner wrote on National Gun Violence Memorial. “My heart is broken.”

This behind-the-scenes NPR podcast about the aftermath of the Capital Gazette shooting. For the latest installment of “Embedded,” producer Chris Benderev and his team spent two years reporting on the aftermath of the 2018 newsroom shooting in Maryland that claimed five lives. Reporters discuss the surreality of being covered by other outlets while reporting on a shooting that happened in their own newsroom, and the bitter realization that the tragedy would slip out of the news cycle in a week — all while wondering if there would even be a paper the next day. (Triumphantly, there was.) The first two episodes, harrowing, raw, and moving, are here and here. —J.M.

“We train to expect someone to have a gun, to try and hurt us.”
What one police officer told UT Austin sociologist M. Sierra-Arévalo for a paper on the “danger imperative” in American policing.
The Weekly Briefing is compiled by Jennifer Mascia.

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