Gun-violence cures sought by FL Democrats snubbed by GOP; Biden plan invests billions in them

By: - April 14, 2021 7:00 am

Loved ones hold a vigil for victims of gun violence. This one was in New York City in July. Credit: David Dee Delgado/Getty

UPDATE: In a related matter, compromise legislation on policing reforms sought by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus is scheduled for introduction Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee. The proposal would, among other things, mandate stricter standards for hiring law enforcement officers, require basic skills training in de-escalation of potential violence, limiting the use of chokeholds, requiring law-enforcement officers to intervene if a fellow officer is using excessive force, and to render medical aid to a person in custody. It also would mandate independent reviews of cases allegedly involving excessive use of force and annual reporting on excessive use of force by law-enforcement officers, including use of firearms.

While gun violence continues to snuff out lives, especially among people of color and women in abusive relationships, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature continues to snub all lawmaking efforts to address the deadly problem.

Even a bill originally titled “Gun Violence Reduction” that was reduced to a task-force study not due for two years failed to gain enough traction to stand a chance of passage.

That bill, co-sponsored by Democrats Sen. Shevrin Jones and Rep. Omari Hardy — and every other bill sponsored by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and Democrats to curb violence against Black people and other minorities — is failing to advance and unlikely to succeed this session.

At the same time, tension over violence against people of color has been high all session following Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country and abroad last summer.

It is especially high now, with fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin being tried for the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, whose death ignited the demonstrations, and the death Sunday of Daunte Wright, an unarmed Black man shot dead by a police officer following a traffic stop, also in Minnesota.

“We are losing 26 Black people to gun violence every day in America. We can end this kind of gun violence but we need solutions that are tailored to the problem, and that’s what this bill was intended to do,” Sen. Jones, who represents parts of Broward and Dade counties, told the Phoenix in an interview Tuesday.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 836 people were killed with firearms in Florida in 2018. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2019, firearms were the second leading cause of death among children and teens. The CDC reports that on average, 175 Florida children and teens are killed with firearms yearly, and 68 percent of those deaths are homicides.

Jones’ original plan was to establish six pilot projects in urban areas of Florida with high rates of violence and crime, likely in parts of Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando, to test intervention programs succeeding elsewhere.

For example, the Group Violence Intervention Program run in Boston in the late ‘90s helped reduce murders in Boston from 95 a year to 31 a year, according to a Florida Senate staff analysis of Jones’ bill.

Cure Violence, a University of Illinois-generated mediation program, used direct communication, education, job training and drug treatment to diminish violence in Chicago, Baltimore, New York, New Orleans and elsewhere, including sites abroad.

Rep. Hardy, who represents part of Palm Beach County, said violence can be “interrupted” by such programs and lives not only spared but redeemed.

“Gun violence is like a communicable disease,” Hardy said, reflecting Cure Violence’s approach of treating violence like a public health problem, not only as criminal behavior.

“Violence interruption … redeems those who have lived that life, who are looking for a way to repurpose their lives,” Hardy said, noting that community violence interventions include wraparound services such as education and substance abuse treatment.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, strove in 2020, without success, to create a task force to investigate and document systemic failures and causes of high crime and gun violence in urban core neighborhoods and communities.

He frequently reminds colleagues, as recently as last Friday, that Black and brown teenagers suffer disproportionately from gun violence. This year, he co-sponsored Sen. Jones’ bill.

While the GOP-run state Legislature in Florida continues to disregard the concerns raised by Jones, Pizzo, Hardy and others, President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., is putting the issues front and center.

“We recognize that cities across the country are experiencing historic spikes in homicides, as the law enforcement can tell you.  The violence is hitting Black and brown communities the hardest.  Homicide is the leading cause of death of Black boys and men ages 15 to 34 — the leading cause of death,” Biden said in announcing his American Jobs Plan to the nation last week.

“There are proven strategies that reduce gun violence in urban communities, and there are programs that have demonstrated they can reduce homicides by up to 60 percent in urban communities.  But many of these have been badly underfunded or not funded at all of late.”

The Democratic president called on Congress to invest (among many other things in the plan) $5 billion over eight years in evidence-based community violence intervention programs like the ones Jones and Hardy want to try in Florida.

“These strategies will help rebuild economies in the hardest hit areas,” Biden said.

Other components of the Biden-Harris Administration’s “initial actions to reduce gun violence” as delineated on, include stopping the proliferation of “ghost guns” that can be built from kits, without serial numbers; closing loopholes on background checks required before gun purchases, and authorizing the Violence Against Women Act to “flag” people likely to use guns in domestic violence.

Other measure include awarding grants to prioritize community violence interventions and other grants for entry-level officers and law enforcement agencies that partner with community organizations.

Grants also would be used for a school violence prevention program to help “students most likely to engage in gun violence or become victims of it.”

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]