Milwaukee has seen a recent surge in gun violence. On Wednesday, the city had its 14th homicide in 15 days.
Shootings in the city, unfortunately, are nothing new. Ten years ago, the city created the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) within the Milwaukee Health Department to tackle the issue. The office is set up to deal with violence as a public health issue. That means treating violence as a communicable disease, figuring out how to prevent, or "vaccinate" against violence. The office looks at who violence affects and where it is occurring in the community.
To put this summer's violence into context, OVP Director Reggie Moore says that Milwaukee has similar homicide numbers for 2018 as this time last August. He says there was promise this summer, with levels 20 percent lower than the year before. But the first two weeks of August have set Milwaukee's homicide numbers back tremendously.
"When we look at some of the risk factors, we understand that concentrated poverty, concentrated incarceration, all contribute to violence happening," says Moore "So, as we work as a community to address those structural factors, we also partner with community-based organizations to really figure out how can we collectively address violence in the short, immediate term."
The OVP developed a comprehensive violence-prevention plan by engaging thousands of residents, including young people. It's called the Milwaukee Blueprint for Peace. Moore says there are six goals and 30 strategies in that Blueprint.
One goal calls for improving the coordination of violence prevention efforts in the city. Wednesday's meeting was an example of that in action. "We convened over a hundred community members to really talk about what are actionable things that we can do collectively to try to get a handle on the violence that's happening in the short-term," Moore says.
Short-term, OVP is looking at the next 24 days, between now and the week after Labor Day. It plans to work on healing those impacted by violence and provide conflict mediation phone lines and support. The office intends to deploy an outreach team to inform the community about access to resources, including counseling, housing and other social services.
"The violence is sort of, if you think about it as an iceberg, sort of the top of the iceberg. But if you look under the water, there's so many significant needs in these neighborhoods, in these homes, that we really have to pay attention, and address this issue, holistically," says Moore.
He wants people who may not live in neighborhoods affected by violence to remember that when they see or hear about an act of violence, that there are families and young people that have been impacted directly, and indirectly by that issue. "The same way it happens with a school shooting," he says.
Moore also emphasizes that people should remember that where violence happens is important. He points out that it often happens in a neighborhood, which impacts the neighborhood as a whole.
"Remember that people live there. So, using terms like 'thug' or 'war zone,' all of those things are dehumanizing terms of an entire community that is living and struggling every day, and is just as frustrated with the violence as everyone else is," Moore says.
He says Wednesday's meeting makes him hopeful about the ability to quell violence in Milwaukee.
"Instead of pointing fingers, I want people to move from concern to commitment," he says. "And that's what we need as a city, and I'm confident that we can make Milwaukee one of the safest cities in America again."