Reducing Gun Violence: Restoring Hope
by DeVitta Briscoe
I have more experience at the complex intersections of gun violence and the criminal justice system than most. Both my twin brother and I were shot and involved in the criminal legal system before age 21. My son was killed by a neighborhood friend. I have been the victim of interpersonal violence. And finally, the moment that jolted my family into action, and my life into activism: police killed my brother Che’ Taylor.
America’s gun violence epidemic overwhelmingly haunts Black women and we are furthest from justice. After I buried my son Donald, who was killed at the tender age of 17, I learned there are many mothers just like me. Mothers who have paid the highest price for admission into a club we never asked to join. A club where the deaths of our children get minimal news coverage. Where the detectives stop calling and showing up to solve our children’s murders. Where the news reporters cannot see our children’s innocence because their color alone conjures a false narrative. Where our demands for justice are never met. Where our voices go unheard.
For too long the gun violence movement has not been inclusive of Black women, yet we suffer the most on both sides of the gun. Black women do not get to choose a side. Victims and perpetrators of crime all come from the same communities, often the same families. Black women have raised children who have murdered, and who have been murdered. Black women are capable of advocating for the health and wellness of our communities and deserve a seat at the table.
For any anti-violence strategy to be successful it requires input from families and community. The movement must uplift those who have suffered the most and center Black women who at the intersection of race and gender are on the lowest rung on the ladder. Our efforts are more sustainable when we connect the most impacted with those who wish to help. We must humanize those who are most impacted and change the narrative. Those who are caught up in a cycle of violence are no different from the rest of us.
I work as the City of Seattle’s Gun Violence Prevention Liaison under Mayor Bruce Harrell. Mayor Harrell delivered on his promise to create a cabinet level position to coordinate gun violence response and prevention. I bring real, lived, and professional experience to this position. I’m no stranger to the trauma of gun violence and proud that this administration is standing with families to demand action and change. That’s why he hired me to serve in this role.
Not only is the mayor showing gun violence prevention is a priority, he’s saying he believes in community engagement with those most impacted to help drive better outcomes. I say that as a respected community leader, committed to gun violence prevention. Mayor Harrell trusts my leadership and together we have a shared commitment to violence reduction, and to ensuring that Seattle is one of safest and healthiest cities in the nation.
We lead with the value that all communities deserve to be safe and free from the threat of gun violence. Our city’s number one victims are disadvantaged men and boys of color and up until now their deaths and victimization have been ignored and deprioritized. Homicide is the leading cause of death for young Black men and boys aged 15-24.
The Harrell administration is not giving lip service or treating the issue as an afterthought. He believes that the thousands of young men and women who die in their neighborhoods demand our urgent attention. Gun violence is a complicated issue with no simple solution. It’s clear the mayor understands this and is working to promote the kinds of solutions we need to address gun violence in its various forms, including the epidemic of suicide and the rise in firearm domestic violence cases.
Mayor Harrell’s vision of “One Seattle” is about coming together as a City and taking a holistic view of the causes to develop better strategies for reduction. I am reminded by the words of dear friend and colleague who said, “There is no wider equity gap than the one that exists between Blacks and whites in relationship to gun violence.” Thomas Abt, author of Bleeding Out encourages us to get past the polarized “us versus them” politics and “stop seeing urban violence as an argument to be won and instead of a problem to be solved. On the right, racist blame-shifting and fearmongering must be rejected. On the left, race-based mistrust of law-enforcement must be addressed.” We must unify all residents around this issue and demand practical solutions to the pressing challenge of urban violence. Otherwise, we’re not going to see progress.
We know that gun violence is a preventable public health emergency that has only worsened during the pandemic. Rates of gun violence hit new highs in 2020. We recently received a report showing shots fired had increased 40% in 2021 – an all-time high. For some this is alarming, for others this is all too common. I believe our mission as City leaders is to restore hope and be a healing presence in a broken city.
Communities most impacted have been left to fend for themselves and struggle with the issue of gun violence on their own. Not for months, but entire decades. We must fight back despair. We have grown weary and most of us suffer from gun violence fatigue. It’s easy to grow numb when so many lives are lost. How many vigils and make-shift graves on street corners can we have? How many murals can we paint? How many t-shirts with our loved one’s photo can we wear? How many “Gone too soon” or RIP hashtags can we post? This administration must restore our hope that things can be different than they are right now.
Mayor Harrell knows change requires a combination of solutions, one being community-based solutions that I am helping to drive. We can move to a safe and hopeful community by interrupting the cycle of urban violence at the neighborhood level, supporting street outreach programs who employ a public health approach with violence interruption at its core. These community-led programs are effective because violence interrupters have the street-level knowledge and relationships to help prevent and stop lethal violence before it occurs, identifying and mediate conflicts and changing community norms.
Community must be at the center, and our efforts must go beyond, recognizing the role of police, pursuing innovative technologies, driving change in our laws, and fostering collaboration with our county and state partners.
All residents deserve to be safe and every occurrence of gun violence that erupts in our City is a threat to our individual and collective sense of safety. The fact is, no matter the cause – the impact is traumatic across our communities. But I know from experience, that it is community who will also help lead us to change and to prevention.
DeVitta Briscoe is the Gun Violence Prevention Liaison with City of Seattle’s Mayor’s Office.