In less than eight months, Jacksonville has lost 73 people to criminal violence -- a murder rate not seen since the crack epidemic of the early 1990s.
In an effort to make sense of Jacksonville's high murder rate, the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. on Tuesday released the result of its four-month "Reducing Murder" study, offering 54 pages worth of advice to help the city lose the title of Florida's murder capital.
The citizen's group made two short-term recommendations:
- Implement "Operation Ceasefire," a program aimed at young men similar to what was used to get violence under control in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and other U.S. cities.
- Get illegal guns off the street.
Long-term advice provided in the group's study includes fostering strong male role models, improving relations between the police and the community and addressing what the study called a culture of violence.
To many residents, 73 murders is a frightening number, but to the families who have lost loved ones to the violence, the group's findings mean more.
The Harrell family was touched first-hand by Jacksonville's murder crisis. In January, 25-year-old Joseph Harrell was found shot to death -- murder No. 11.
His family continues to be devastated because his killer has not been caught. They have attended meetings on the JCCI study looking for answers.
The family said the city needs to do something and that they wish it could have happened before their loved one was killed. They said they hope the report released Tuesday will save some other lives.
"I just want it to stop ? I really do. If I could say anything to people doing it, 'Please, take a look at what you are doing. This is really devastating,'" said the victim's father Joe Harrell. "It's tearing families apart, and it hurts."
The violence also hurts those who made recommendations to the city's sheriff and mayor.
"If you want the killings to stop, we need to provide an alternative to the alternate lifestyle," said JCCI study co-chair Raymond Reid.
Those alternatives were listed in a study presented by the JCCI.
The top four recommendations include targeting the killing among young adult men, for which the JCCI suggested the cease-fire program, the use of leaders in the black community and even grandmothers to get the word out.
"This must stop. You are killing our community. You are ruining our community. You must find a better way to operate," said JCCI co-chair Lois Chepenik.
The second recommendation was to get illegal guns off the street. The third recommendation was to admit and address the racism problem in Jacksonville.
"Stronger leadership in the black community, for example, is to confront the violence and say, 'stop the killings.' We need stronger leadership in the white community to provide support and stronger resources for anti-violent approaches," Reid said.
The fourth recommendation was to fund successful programs.
Those involved in the study and those who have felt the effects of the problem agreed that there was one recommendation everyone needs to follow.
"If the community does not care, then all these plans and statistics are not going to work, if we are not all united for the problem," said the victim's sister Michelle Harrell.