Mayor, community groups offer solutions to Jacksonville's gun violence

Curry's plan is funding youth groups; Northside Coalition has 10-point plan

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mayor and community groups have come forward with what they want to see happen to stop the violence in Jacksonville following Friday's deadly triple shooting after a high school football game and Sunday's mass shooting at the Jacksonville Landing. 

Mayor Lenny Curry told News4Jax that his plan is to fund community groups and churches to stop the violence at a grassroots level.

"I have to do my job. We have problems, longstanding problems, in the community neighborhoods that have been left behind, children that feel hopeless," Curry said Wednesday. "We provide children’s programs by creating the Kids Hope Alliance. That is a new organization. It's rethinking the way they do things at early-learning summer programs, after-school programs. But anytime something happens like the terrible acts we saw this weekend, it’s a reminder, a terrible reminder, that we have to continue to do the hard work."

The Northside Coalition, along with the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, held a news conference Wednesday afternoon in front of City Hall downtown.

The community activist groups addressed the city's recent deadly wave of gun violence involving young people. 

In the shooting after a Raines High School football game, police arrested a 16-year-old boy.

Five people, including two teens, were arrested in the death of a 7-year-old girl who was killed in the crossfire of a shooting Aug. 11 in the parking lot of a Westside strip mall, according to police.

Teens with guns and teens who some say have no hope are the reasons why the gun violence is happening now, said community leader Ben Frazier, with the Northside Coalition. 

That's why the Northside Coalition announced a 10-point plan to get the entire city involved.

"If we all agree with the logic that this is, in fact, a community problem, then it needs to be a community solution," Frazier said. 

READ: Northside Coalition’s 10-point plan for recovery

The plan includes holding town hall meetings and getting social workers out of offices and onto the streets, where they can work directly with people turning to violence in a form of conflict resolution. 

It also calls for taking $30 million from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's budget and using that to fund community crime prevention centers.

Frazier said funding those programs could steer people away from violent criminal activities. But at one point during the news conference, coalition members started blaming the system for the city's gun violence.

"We are saying the people in charge who run the sheriff’s department, city and the captains of industry, the City Council, the mayor should be moving to do something about it," Frazier said. "There’s ample room for improvement.”

After the news conference, coalition members attended a City Council meeting, but they left after police said their chants became too disruptive.

Also on Wednesday, the mayor's office said it will be spending $50,000 in emergency funds to go to youth and faith-based groups, such as the efforts headed up by Pastor John Guns with Save Our Sons. 

Guns said the funding is a start.

"I think ultimately the work has to happen at the grassroots level," he said.

Guns said the wave of violence is fueled by angry rap music and social media, where smack talk ends in murder.

"I think, sometimes, we complicate this. It’s not that complicated. You love people. People return that love," he said. "You create a climate of insensitivity and racial divide and political polarization, as we're seeing all over this country, then you create a deeper barrier that ultimately perpetuates a different behavior."

Curry and Guns planned a community walk Thursday to learn more about what people believe needs to be done. 

In the past, the city has seen similar programs go by the wayside. In 2015, the Sheriff's Office and community groups started Operation PIE (Prevention, Intervention and Enforcement), which looked at kids who were already in trouble.

The program tracked 1,000 kids from 2005 to 2009. In 2015,12 of those kids had been killed by gunfire. The findings led to more talk of intervention, but the city doesn't hear about Operation PIE anymore.

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