Community Approaches to Violence Prevention

Feven Gerezgiher reports on wider adoption of innovative approaches to violence prevention.

In August, 16-year-old Varney Kennedy Jr. was sitting in his car at 63rd and Zane Ave in Brooklyn Park when an unidentified gunman shot and killed him. It was one of many shootings at the intersection over the last year.

“We can’t lose a whole generation, “ said long-time civil rights activist Spike Moss. “That’s what we’re about to do.”

Spike Moss led outreach with gangs across the country for decades. Last week, he helped the city and a nonprofit called Minnesota Acts Now launch an outreach initiative at Brooklyn Park’s crime hotspots. Community members are taking shifts nearly every day to connect with people and understand how to best prevent violence.

“We’re losing far too many people, too many children,” he said. “No one cares about them – otherwise, the person who did it would have been in jail.”

Counseling psychologist Dr. Aja King is coordinating the outreach efforts with a similar community intervention campaign taking place across the Twin Cities called 21 Days of Peace. She says the focus is on meeting people where they’re at.

She said mental health practitioners must ask ‘what happened to you’; not ‘what’s wrong with you.” 

“We want to know: how do drugs get introduced? What is it that’s putting you at risk that you aren’t able to keep yourself safe?,” she said

Dr. King said this approach allows for heartfelt conversations that can create more hope and help bridge people to needed resources.

This kind of work is backed by data-driven research. Following the murder of George Floyd, the City of Brooklyn Park hired Wilder Research to identify root causes of violence and create recommendations on improving public safety. In the report released in June, Wilder said economic insecurity and poor sense of community are risk factors for violence. It recommended community-based mental health and substance use responses and addressing social inequities as crime prevention. 


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