An epidemic of violence: The Cities United partnership confronts the violence affecting African American men and boys

Every 24 hours in America, 14 young men and boys are gunned down on the streets of our cities. Homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of 10 and 24. Black people are victims of nearly half of all homicides in the United States, although they account for only 13 percent of the population. The homicide rate for African American males aged 10-24 years-old is 60.7 per 100,000. The homicide rate for white males in the same age group is 3.5 per 100,000.

Mayors have the power and the responsibility to help end this senseless loss of life. Under the Leadership of Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Cities United will assist mayors and municipal leaders in combating the epidemic of violence now obliterating African American men and boys.

To create healthier, safer, more hopeful communities, Cities United asks mayors to target the highest-risk neighborhoods and engage with African American males to find a solution and end the violence. Cities United will help mayors focus on prevention rather than prosecution, intervention rather than incarceration.

Cities United provides mayors across the country with the data and tools to share with community leaders, families, youth and others to join in the efforts to reduce the number of homicides in their cities.

For mayors who join, Cities United will:

  • Supply research and other information on violence-related deaths.
  • Provide access to consultants who can assist, develop and implement solutions to violent crime.
  • Assist in gaining support from leaders of federal and state agencies, philanthropic and civic organizations and other stakeholder groups.
  • Connect local officials with representatives from other cities that have implemented successful violence-reducing strategies.
  • Encourage accountability through community involvement, commitment to evidence-based practices, and rigorous evaluation.
  • Coordinate annual meetings where city teams can share their challenges and successes; learn about new models and methodologies; interact with youth and leaders from other cities; and allow mayors to engage in facilitated sessions with each other.
  • Coordinate an annual “Youth Committed to Eliminating Violence” summit where young black males and other youth can speak to national and local leaders about building successful violence prevention efforts; learn conflict resolution and critical decision-making.

Violence on our streets is more than a senseless waste of life; it robs our neighborhoods of badly needed resources that could be better utilized to create educational and economic opportunities for every young person.

“Our playgrounds have become battlegrounds. Our streets have become cemeteries. Our schools have become places to mourn the ones we’ve lost.”

– President Obama

Founding and current partners

Some of the nation’s most respected philanthropic, governmental and nonprofit organizations support Cities United and its mission, including: The Open Society Foundations, Casey Family Programs, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the National League of Cities, Student Peace Alliance, Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, G-L.A.W. Outertainment, Forum for Youth Investment, Youth in Action, Mikva Challenge, Temple University School of Medicine, CureViolence, FosterSkills, Anti-Violence Anti-Drug Network, Association of Black Foundation Executives, Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families, The National Urban League and U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Cities United also partners with the U.S. Department of Justice and will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies.

Fourteen steps cities can take now to stop the violence

1. Build political will to change

Sustainable solutions must be conceived and led by local government in partnership with the community. This means committed leadership at the top – governor, mayor, police chief, superintendent of public instruction, local chief of health and human services, elected officials in high-crime neighborhoods and community leaders. This effort must be maintained and transcend local election cycles. This also means training leaders on effective strategies to achieve community-wide results.

2. Create a local leadership team

Organize a cross-sector Anti-violence and Community Stabilization group in every city to facilitate efforts within city government and between city government and the community.

3. Connect city leaders in a national network

Help city leaders find out what works in other cities and support them as they borrow and modify successful strategies.

4. Engage the leaders of the ‘violence factories’ in the conversation

Every city knows who they are. Bring them to the table and get them to enter a dialogue to save lives. Incentivize their participation. Get comfortable with their presence—they are critical to lasting change in communities. Meet them where they are!

5. Create a city-wide work group or commission

Tap committed individuals to join an effort to improve community, youth and family outcomes.

6. Be systematic about targeting resources where they are most needed

Create grids across the city to identify the targeted geography and understand problem neighborhoods. Not every neighborhood is equally impacted. Cities must isolate pockets of violence and concentrate efforts and resources to maximize effectiveness.

7. Construct and implement a multi-year plan of action

Document, monitor, and measure outcomes that build in flexibility to modify the plan when outcomes and circumstances warrant.

8. Develop an integrated response strategy

  • Across government agencies
  • Across public and private sectors
  • Across age groups
  • Across civic and community organizations
  • Across faith institutions

9. Teach every child to read

Poor reading skills do not automatically lead to violent behavior, but data from various studies indicate that below grade-level reading ability is significantly related to the development of aggressive anti-social behavior.

  • Four of five incarcerated juvenile offenders read two or more years below grade level. A majority are functionally illiterate.
  • Seventy percent of the prison population reads below grade level.

10. Workforce readiness

Nothing stops a bullet like a job! Ensure that all young men are prepared for post- high school education or vocational training that leads to the well paying jobs in your city. Providing youth with summer jobs sets them up for success by giving them a great learning opportunity.

11. Provide community-wide mental health services

Remove the stigma associated with asking for help and ensure that everyone who suffers from mental-health issues receives the care they need. Make the services easily accessible.

12. Engage and support parents and families

Help mothers, fathers, and concerned family members to lead their families and raise healthy, well-functioning children.

13. Stop the cycle of violence

Address retaliation through programs such as Cure Violence’s “Violence Interrupters” or Omega Boys Club’s “Street Soldiers”.

14. Keep the lights on

Hold public events frequently and at all hours of the 24-hour day in the city’s most violence-prone places.

Get involved: 14 steps cities can take now to stop the violence »

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