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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative Grantee Convening


St. Louis, MO
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Thank you for those kind words and those important words, Amy, but more importantly, thank you for your outstanding leadership. It is a privilege to be with all of you here in St. Louis. Look at this room. It is incredible. Thank you for joining. Thank you for gathering here this morning.

I want to thank you, Pacia, for your powerful words. They're the perfect way to open up this meeting — captivating, beautiful and inspiring. Thank you.

I am so pleased to be here, you don't know. This work has been so important to the Justice Department, and we know how many of you have been toiling away for years and for decades, as Amy has said. I am pleased to be in this room which such an array of people working so hard in your communities.

I am pleased to be here with Commissioner Tracy. I know he is just weeks into his new position, but he brings tremendous experience and expertise and connectivity to the communities he’s worked in, and I am really pleased that he is and grateful for your commitment to strengthening relationships between the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the communities it serves.

Eddie, it is wonderful to join you, too. I remain grateful for the wisdom and experience that you bring to the Justice Department, challenging us every day with the community violence work that you have done for so long. Your leadership in Chicago, and now for the country, is so incredible.

And I am thankful to all of you — community violence intervention specialists, law enforcement, public health professionals, service providers, local leaders and researchers. You have come together from cities across the country to learn from one another, to renew your dedication to the health and safety of your communities and to send a powerful message that we can prevent violence in America through collaboration, intervention and a collective commitment to change.

For too long, our society has looked to law enforcement alone to solve the problem of violence in our communities. We ask police to resolve deep, complex social challenges, primarily with the blunt instruments of arrest and incarceration. And every day across the country, police officers are doing everything they can with the tools that they have. But this approach in isolation has not been enough to curb violence in our communities.

That is why we included community-based violence prevention and intervention programs as one of the four foundational principles of the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Violent Crime in May 2021. And it is one of the reasons Congress enacted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The Justice Department announced yesterday $231 million in funding from the Act for states to put towards crisis intervention court proceedings, including extreme risk protection order programs that we know work to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others. The Act also provided $50 million in funding for CVI programs, bringing our total investment right now to $100 million.

This is geared toward a more comprehensive approach, one that takes in the bigger picture and reframes the problem of violence as one in which every member of the community has a stake. It is an approach that centers the very communities that are impacted by violent crime, where community members, local leaders and law enforcement work together, as co-producers of public safety. It is both a strategy and a mindset, and it has the potential to transform our vision of safe and healthy communities.

It begins with the premise that violence is not inevitable — it is preventable. When we reject violence as a fixture in the landscape, we see clearly that no person is disposable. We give up on no one.

“Community violence intervention and prevention” doesn't describe one particular kind of program or project, nor does it include all interventions that seek to address violence. Those of you in this room know that well. And, as you heard from Amy, there are some guiding principles for this approach.

CVI programs must be community-centered and equitable and inclusive. They must be evidence-informed — through research and evaluation, case studies and expert opinions. And finally, CVI programs must be effective and sustainable.

So, what does this look like in practice? 

Many of you have been embodying these principles in your work for years — in some cases, decades — and you’re continuing to build on it today. You're training and deploying peacemakers in Los Angeles. You're providing mental health services and peer mentoring to high-risk individuals in Baltimore. And you're providing conflict resolution, mediation and other critical services to youth in Miami. This is just a snapshot of the different models and programs and projects that comprise CVI.

The federal government’s historic investment in this approach shows our commitment to working with you and to making sure that we are following the evidence and ensuring we are having a measurable impact and to continue doing what works.

Our approach must and should include law enforcement as vital partners. The work we are doing to build community safety infrastructure is a complement to their work, not in lieu of it. And many of you are working closely with law enforcement in your cities and communities, and I am confident that your work will be more effective and your communities will be better off because of your collaboration and partnership. The CVI approach, and the approach that you are doing to build and sustain it, reminds us that the problem of violence, including gun violence, is not a series of isolated events, but so often the culmination of long-standing unmet needs in communities. And it helps us to rethink how we actually conceptualize both the symptoms and the causes.

Darcel Clark, the Bronx County District Attorney and one of our partners, spoke recently at a graduation ceremony for the Bronx Osborne Gun Accountability and Prevention (BOGAP) Program, in which participants arrested for possessing a gun enter a year-long program with job training, therapy and conflict resolution skills-building, and ultimately have their guilty pleas dismissed — an alternative to a two-year prison sentence. DA Clark told the graduates what many of us have long believed — that their circumstances should not determine their destiny. When we see the full picture, including all the circumstances that may have shaped a person’s life, we find ourselves, like DA Clark, rooting for their success.

And in keeping with our guiding principles, I should also note that we awarded a grant last year to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to study the BOGAP program, including an assessment of whether successful completion reduces recidivism rates and creates lasting change for participants.

Centering the community and looking at the full picture also means acknowledging that neighborhoods with high rates of violence are places that have been for so long underserved. One of our grants is supporting the New Kensington Community Development Corporation in the Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia, which is facing high rates of unemployment and insufficient housing. This grant will help implement a CVI program in Kensington using the Cure Violence model. The model is evidence-based — evidence that has shown statistically significant reductions in gun violence, including a 30% reduction in shootings comparing two years pre-implementation with two years post-implementation. It treats gun violence as a disease, using violence interrupters and outreach workers to detect potential violence and interrupt it before a shooting occurs.

It is no secret that Black and brown communities have been historically under-resourced, and decades of disinvestment have taken a heavy toll. New investments — even the historic investments that we are making now through our grant programs — will not erase the imbalance. Reversing this age-old injustice will take time, but we must be firm in our commitment. And we must be patient and perseverant and persistent.

We’ll also need to be adaptable. No one intervention or program can solve the problem of violence in this country. Each of you brings unique solutions to difficult, sometimes unique problems. In some cases, you rely on credible messengers with deep ties to their communities and trained to work with those most at risk of engaging in violence. In others, you’re focusing on workforce development, social services, cognitive behavioral therapy or trauma-informed care. None of your programs look exactly alike. And that is both good and important. Tackling the problem of violence is this country needs creative thinking, innovative approaches and all hands on deck. It needs you.

Building community infrastructure helps to achieve two vital ends. First, it engenders trust. This is trust among members of a community, between the community and the police, and in the justice system itself — all essential ingredients in the prevention and reduction of violence. Community-police trust and justice go hand in hand with safety. Any effort to achieve one without the other is bound to fail. As I say this all the time: public safety depends on community trust, and it depends on justice.

Second, grounding public safety in the community is the surest way to a fair and equitable system of justice. Community violence exposes long-standing inequities that we cannot ignore, and if we hope to solve the problem of violence in America, we must also deliver on our nation’s promise of equal justice.

This is not just a new way of doing business – this is a bold re-thinking of what safety and justice means in our society. And CVI is one of many ways that we can empower people to take ownership of safety in their communities, and to share some of the burden with law enforcement.

Last year, our Bureau of Justice Assistance funded a new effort called “Reimagining Justice,” a phrase that captures exactly what we’re trying to achieve. Through a grant to the Newark Public Safety Collaborative, based out of Rutgers University, we are supporting an effort to test new community safety strategies that complement traditional enforcement measures. The mission is to put data and research into the hands of community stakeholders so they can be part of the design and development of community safety solutions.

Co-responder models, which pair law enforcement with behavioral health professionals and community responder programs, which train civilian first responders, are showing promise in a number of cities. Our Connect and Protect Program is supporting these alliances between law enforcement, police departments and public health experts, and we have seen that they are helping to keep people out of jail and on the road to treatment and recovery.

Equal justice and community safety are monumental challenges that have repeatedly, throughout our history, defied solutions. We will not find answers overnight. And we have to be prepared for setbacks and skepticism. And no doubt you’ve encountered your share of both. We will need to learn from the setbacks, looking closely at what works and what doesn’t and finding out why, leaning on the data and research to help us adapt and adjust. And we’ll have to guard against the skeptics who say that crime and violence are matters best left only to the police alone, at the expense of recognizing the crucial role community members and leaders play in co-creating safety.

We know — and you have seen firsthand — that community-based approaches to these problems work and will continue to work. That is why one of our central tenets must be the importance and the power of rigorous research and evaluation. We are deepening the body of evidence so we can broaden our coalition of support and build on the robust groundwork that you have laid and are continuing to lay here today and this week.

What you are doing in your communities is remarkable. You are showing people that there are better options than violence and retaliation. You are letting them know that they are more than the trauma that they have seen and suffered. And you are finding a way to bring hope and opportunity into places that have seen too little of either.

I am proud that the Justice Department is supporting you in this essential work, work that is making a difference in the lives that you touch and the communities that you serve. And we know that you need to take care of yourselves too as you do this work.

I am grateful for all that you do. Thank you for your leadership, for your inspiration and for your time today. Stay hopeful my friends.

Updated February 15, 2023