By Karen Stokes
In recent years, as the warmer weather approaches, there have been concerns about the potential escalation of violence in the City. However, recent data from the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) indicates homicides showing a nearly 40% decrease and non-fatal shootings are down by almost 10% compared to the same period last year. To ensure a safe summer, the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) joined forces in the Mayor’s Peace Week to set the tone for peace.
Ashanti Hamilton, the Director of The Office of Violence Prevention discussed efforts, goals, and recent accomplishments of the organization.
One effort, the Mayor’s Peace Week, is a week-long event aimed at promoting peace and showcasing the new initiatives developed by OVP.
“Peace Week expanded on the concept of the ceasefire Sabbath events previously organized by Mayor Barrett, which started as one day and brought churches together to discuss peace efforts. Mayor Johnson extended this idea to a full week, highlighting the citywide efforts to encourage a safe summer,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton considers Peace Week to have been a success, as it provided activities for adults and young people. The event garnered positive responses from various communities throughout the city, particularly those that have long been burdened by persistent violence.
As explained by the Director, the Promise Keepers is a group the community should connect with. The first day of MKE Peace Week, OVP launched Promise Keeper Outreach Teams. Promise Keepers, thirteen outreach teams, will be deployed to identified areas within Milwaukee that experience the highest rates of violence and disparities. These teams will work as the connector to identified community-based organizations, youth organizations, culturally led organizations, faith leaders together with a number of City departments and resources to magnify the impact to achieve our collective goals. Promise Keepers will be specially trained in Cure Violence which is an evidenced based approach that uses trusted messengers in the community to interrupt the transmission of violence. The Promise Keepers will spread anti-violence messages and encourage positive changes in individual behavior as well as community norms around violence.
OVP now has two strong methods of outreach. 414Life focuses on retaliatory violence and community outreach while the Promise Keepers primarily focus on the drivers of violence. These two powerful approaches will have a major impact in violence prevention.
In observance of National Gun Violence Awareness Month in June, OVP has planned several activities throughout the city.
“We have partnered with community organizations to promote, reach out, and encourage participation in activities across all parts of the City,” Hamilton said. “Additionally, we are collaborating with several partners to offer gun safety classes directly in our communities. We strongly encourage individuals who have access to firearms or know someone who does to participate in these training. Statistics show that the risk of harm from a gun is higher when it is owned by someone you know and live in close proximity to. By providing training on firearm usage and fostering a responsible attitude towards firearms, we aim to mitigate and reduce such risks.”
Hamilton expressed his hope that OVP continues to advance community engagement that strengthens youth, families, and community.