Letters to the EditorNews

Athens Must Work to Reduce Youth Violence

As many of you know, Easter weekend was marred with the shooting death of another young man in our community. Brynarius Smith, 19, died as a result of his injuries after a shooting on Cone Drive at approximately 2 a.m. 

At the Athens-Clarke County Commission’s March voting meeting, where we approved $50,000 in funding for summer programs for youth to prevent future tragedies, I told my colleagues, “I won’t be able to live with myself if we lose another young person because we failed to act.” And candidly, sometimes I can’t. It is tempting to succumb to anger and grief in the aftermath of these senseless killings. 

But we can’t give in to nihilism. We must work proactively, year-round to put in place proven interventions to reduce community violence. We owe it to these young men and their families.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have proclaimed gun violence a public health epidemic, and indeed, violence is much like a virus: once exposed, victims carry it with them. Without treatment, they act out violently, spreading the virus to others.

Public health experts have pioneered many successful programs aimed at treating this disease. One such program, Cure Violence, would train, resource and employ street-credible, culturally-responsive violence interrupters to mediate potentially violent conflicts, connect individuals at risk of violence to treatment and resources, and organize their communities to shift cultural norms around conflict. It’s been incredibly successful in many U.S. cities (and cities around the world, for that matter). One neighborhood in Chicago, as an example, saw a 73% reduction in shootings and complete elimination of retaliation homicides as result of the program; another neighborhood in Brooklyn went an entire year without a shooting, thanks to brave community members who cooled conflicts, helped their neighbors access healing resources to break the cycle of violence and assisted young folks in exiting gangs.

We have many such men and women in our community with the knowledge, relationships and compassion necessary to undertake this work, including many of you reading this and already doing this on your own dime and time; it is past time that we, the local government, provide much-needed support.

I ask for your support in making this happen for our community by writing to my colleagues on the commission. As well, I have been working diligently to identify an organization to act as fiscal sponsor for the program; if your organization might fit, reach out.

The local government’s best work has always come about in response to the righteous demands of the people consciously organized. 

Parker is the ACC commissioner for District 2.