Gang violence once again in spotlight in Jacksonville

Cure Violence program to open 1st week of June

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The shooting Friday night outside the Terry Parker High School stadium has brought attention to violence involving young people.

Friday's shooting, which police said could be gang-related, happened just days before News4Jax learned Monday that Cure Violence's Jacksonville office will launch the first week of June. 

The mother of the 16-year-old Raines High School student shot outside the Terry Parker football field denied he was involved in gang activity.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, there are 705 documented gang members in Jacksonville and 58 documented criminal gangs in the city.

City leaders -- such as the mayor, state attorney and sheriff -- said they've had enough. They released their Comprehensive Gang Reduction Strategy earlier this year.

Among the most talked about topics in the report was bringing the Cure Violence program to Jacksonville. It’s an approach developed in Chicago where ex-cons with street credibility reach out to those who they identify as the most at risk for violence. Jacksonville’s City Council approved $764,000 to start a program in Duval County.

“This is really a boots-on-the-ground, innovative approach to interrupting some of these repeat acts of violence that occurred,” Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told News4Jax in March.

On Monday, city officials confirmed the program launches the first week of June. Administrators are in the process of hiring and training staff at two centers -- one in Northwest Jacksonville and the other on the Eastside.

Damian Cook, who has overseen the process with the city, said they’ve interviewed dozens of candidates. He added Cure Violence administrators were in the process of finalizing caseworkers.

Leaders at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the State Attorney’s Office and the city will be opening a separate, joint Crime Gun Intelligence Center on Tuesday.

Leonard Chatman Jr. is an anti-crime activist and founder of a program called “Building Solid Stones.”

“It’s time for us, as a city, to take back our streets once and for all,” Chatman said. 

He said all the resources are needed to fix our area’s violence issues.

“I have a mentoring program and 35% of our program participants have been asked or approached to join gangs here in the city of Jacksonville," Chatman said. "It’s tremendous. It’s ridiculous."

Chatman said the survey was given to 4,000 elementary school students in third grade through fifth grade.

He said the children often come from broken homes and see gangs as an outlet.

“They want the money, the quick money,” he said. “They want the girls, so to speak. And they want, more importantly, they want a sense of family because, unfortunately, they don’t get it at home. Or there’s absentee fathers. The mothers (are) just doing the best they can to get by. So they don’t have anyone. So these gangs provide that family sense of environment.”

Chatman said more funding for crime-fighting is important, but this is a communitywide issue that all residents need to take responsibility for. He said the children need better opportunities, more things to do after school and access to jobs. 

For more information about Chatman’s program, e-mail him at author@leonardchatmanjr.org.

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