By Matt Martinez
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
A new initiative from 414Life, the city’s community-based violence interruption program, will be a key part of Milwaukee’s strategy to prevent shootings heading into the summer months.
Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention hosted a Call to Action meeting on Tuesday to address violence in the city ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. At the meeting, community members gathered to share their thoughts and discuss grassroots efforts to curb violence in their neighborhoods.
Rates of gun violence have increased in Milwaukee since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Reggie Moore, director of violence prevention policy and engagement for the Comprehensive Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, noted that from 2016 through 2019, the city saw a decrease in non-fatal shootings and homicides. Since 2020, both metrics have increased dramatically.
According to data from the Milwaukee Police Department, 2020 and 2021 saw 764 and 873 non-fatal shootings, respectively. There were 190 homicides in 2020 and 193 homicides in 2021.
“It’s not that we’re doing something wrong or that Milwaukee is broken,” Moore said. “Cities around the country, and I can tell you personally through my work in Cincinnati and Cleveland, are experiencing the same trend.”
Arnitta Holliman, director of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, which is based in the Milwaukee Health Department, said the meeting was called to develop a plan for the upcoming holiday weekend.
414Life seeking new hires
Among the new efforts is a 12-week program that will train residents to provide mediation services, resources and host events in an effort to curb violence.
414Life, which operates in partnership with the Office of Violence Prevention, aims to hire 50 people to be present in the community with “resources, hope and activities” for residents.
Jessica Butler, community engagement coordinator with 414Life, said the program will run from the start of the summer through Labor Day.
“This city needs to be saturated with people who want to make change,” Butler said.
Butler said the initiative will focus on seven neighborhoods:
• Park West
• North Division
• Sherman Park
• South Side (From 6th to 27th streets, Pierce Street to Oklahoma Avenue)
• Old North Milwaukee/Garden Homes
• Walker’s Point
414Life also partners with the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
Causes for violence
Moore, the previous director of the Office of Violence Prevention who served in that position until April 2021, said it was important to understand the underlying causes of violence in the city.
For example, during the weekend of May 13 to May 15, a series of shootings occurred near the city’s Deer District, an entertainment plaza by the Fiserv Forum.
Moore said roughly 69% of the shootings that occurred during that time period stemmed from an argument or fight. Most shootings occur between people who know each other, Moore said.
Moore also warned against linking minors to the rise in violence in the city. Before the pandemic, the average age of a shooter in the city was 29 years old, he said. While that age has gotten slightly younger during the pandemic, Moore said young people were not driving shootings and homicides in Milwaukee.
“There are conditions and environmental factors that contribute to the concentrated violence that we see, not just in Milwaukee, but if you can go to a hood in St. Louis, a hood in Cincinnati, a hood in Cleveland, they all have similar factors that hinder them from being neighborhoods — and so, people call them ‘hoods,” Moore said.
Need for funding and partnership
Camille Mays, founder of Peace Garden Project MKE, a community gardening and wellness project that aims to provide healing and peace for residents, called for more funding for grassroots efforts, using herself as an example.
Mays, who lost her own son to gun violence in 2019, has worked to help others recover from such trauma. Mays said she was tired of seeing the same people on the ground doing the work without getting proper funding, and that more support was needed for efforts around the city.
“I’m an angry mom,” Mays said. “My son is not here. A lot of mothers are out here, boots to the ground — a lot of people in this room. They have sons or daughters, nieces or nephews, someone who was murdered and they still can’t get any support. That is sick and that is sad.”
David Muhammad, deputy director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services and a former staffer with the Office of Violence Prevention, said the need for commitment to funding the office was critical. He pointed to city and county budgets as “moral documents” that must reflect a commitment to life.
Muhammad also noted the difference in response to the Deer District shootings as opposed to the everyday violence that occurs in the city.
“When the shooting happened downtown … it was all hands on deck. People are dying and getting shot every day on the North Side and the South Side,” Muhammad said. “We need that same energy continuously.”
For more information
Those interested in the 414Life initiative can contact Jessica Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.