Fourteen homicides have been reported since the beginning of the year, according to the last Miami-Dade police department data release. Many of these homicides occur in some of Miami’s most underprivileged areas, and community members and government are finding ways to change that.
Nine men from the Circle of Brotherhood, called the Hunger 9, went on a 22-day hunger strike in Liberty City in March to put an end to gun violence in their communities. And while the strike may be over, the issue of gun violence remains urgent.
Miami has seen an almost 24 percent increase in homicides from 2013 to 2017, according to the reports.
Deputy Mayor of Miami-Dade County Maurice Kemp says his office works with community partners, such as the Circle of Brotherhood, and neighboring police departments, to come up with solutions to address gun violence.
“Until we stop our young men from killing each other, we’re not going to be satisfied,” said Kemp. “What we know is that government can’t do this alone, and that it takes the community to change what’s happening here.”
His most recent effort is the John Jay program, an intervention-based initiative that brings different members of the community together to help the individuals who are involved in violent activities.
The program, sponsored by the Board of Commissioners’ District 3 chairwoman, Audrey Edmonson, who oversees Liberty City, identifies known gang members and drug dealers. And while pressuring them with potential arrest, community members work together to uplift them through social, familial and work related activities. The program also helps the families of those individuals through similar efforts.
Other local government officials have made efforts to confront gun violence in communities like Liberty City; Congresswoman Frederica Wilson recently introduced a bill that will focus on studying and directing social problems that affect black men and boys.
While officials are creating ways to curb gun violence, citizens of those communities continue to struggle with finding solutions. Caroline Williams, councilwoman of Area 8, which includes the site of the hunger strike, supports the Circle of Brotherhood efforts. She believes gun violence is a systematic problem that is deeply rooted in people’s lives, making it difficult to confront properly.
“Violence happens at every level,” said Williams. “The more we meet our everyday problems and when we take the anger out of those things, it’s a puzzle piece it’s a part of the solution.”
According to Williams, when addressing gun violence, local lawmakers are dealing with the “symptoms” rather than dealing with the cause itself. Overcrowding in all aspects of the community–traffic, housing and schools–contribute to the tensions that eventually results into violent situations.
“A gun is just a symptom that leads up to that shooting,” said Williams. “We need to let people know that their needs can be met in nonviolent ways.”
Williams believes that only change will bring an end to gun violence. Possible solutions, such as creating to gun-free zones, implementing conflict-resolution in different areas of school curriculum or resolving mental health are, according to government officials and activists, some of the first steps communities might need to implement. But most importantly, Williams says, conversations are at the helm of change.
“I believe young people today are going to definitely be those change makers because they know what’s not working for them and that the cards are stacked against them,” said Williams. “Each person that takes a piece of the puzzle and resolves it is a part of the solution. It’s going to take some time but we need to do it.”