The Grand Rapids Association of Pastors gathered on May 17 at City Life Church for their final meeting before breaking for the summer. J.D. Chapman Jr. of Realism is Loyalty spoke with us both about his work with young people in Grand Rapids, and about his partnership with the national organization, Cure Violence.
As Rev. Kate Kooyman said, when introducing Chapman, "We've been talking with the police and about the police and community relations, and we wanted to invited someone to talk with us about other ways the community is responding." She also pointed out that there is police department money earmarked specifically for community development--five million dollars over five years. As of this writing, close to the end of the first year of the grant, a small amount (under $250,000) has been spent on tactical equipment. Rev. Kooyman also noted that the city is spending $150,000 to study whether there is a lack of trust between the Grand Rapids Police Department. She said, "We already know there's a lack of trust, and the representatives of two police unions acknowledged this at our last meeting. That is not in question." Throughout the meeting, the pastors expressed the urgency of rallying community voices to have input on deciding how to spend this money so it builds up the community, and restores trust between the police and the community, and doesn't go to more military-style equipment.
Chapman spoke about how Realism is Loyalty works to curb violence in Grand Rapids:
"We take a 'meet you where you are approach' to mentor and coach youth and young adults and guide them to a better way of thinking--not to the way I think, but to arrive at their own better way."
The staff has credibility with young people because most of them are returning citizens. Chapman said, "None of us are over 40, but we have a combined 61 years of incarceration." In addition, his training with Cure Violence (C.V.) has convinced him of the value and effectiveness of a health epidemic approach to violence (in contrast to a criminal justice approach). He has trained to be a site manager and coordinator for C.V., and he is also a Certified Interrupter. He has been to seven sites in Chicago and the East Coast and noted that one site in Brooklyn has gone 1,000 days without gun violence. Many sites partner with a local university to track changes in levels of violence, but also in attitudes towards using guns to settle conflicts, and towards calling the police. In every site, gun violence has been reduced, in one place by 35% in one year, in another by 63%. In some sites, violent crime in general has gone down. Click here to read more statistics. Cure Violence prides itself on being an evidence-based model that reduces gun violence, reduces retaliatory killings, decreases the likelihood that people will turn to guns to settle disputes, and increases the likelihood that people in violence-prone neighborhoods will call the police when there's a problem.
Each site is staffed by members of that community, often returning citizens who have experience with the attitudes they're trying to guide young people away from. Chapman said that alone would be a major benefit to Grand Rapids:
"It's more likely that a person running around on the streets has more influence with 14-26-year-olds than any pastor, and when they become part of Cure Violence, then calls to the police are reduced. If calls are reduced, then the police will have time between calls to connect with the community."
Many sites work with hospitals to reduce violence. When gang or neighborhood-crew-related victims come in to the emergency room, the hospital calls trained interrupters to bring the different stakeholders together to reduce the likelihood of retaliatory violence. PBS's Frontline did a documentary on the work of interrupters; that video is at the end of this article.
Proponents of bringing Cure Violence to Grand Rapids are becoming more vocal because of that grant to improve police and community relations. The full C.V. model costs between $300-500,000 per year to run, although they have recently added a more a-la-carte method for communities, like Grand Rapids, that do not have a large organized gang problem. Chapman is concerned that if Grand Rapids doesn't decide soon to spend the grant money on an evidence-based, health epidemic approach like Cure Violence's, the city will wind up spending it in ways that do nothing to increase trust between the community and the police, and might even make the situation worse. Moreover, if the city decides, because of funding reasons, to try to adopt parts of the C.V. model, it will get mired in meetings and there will be no accountability for actually enacting the model.
Chapman admitted that, even with the availability of $1,000,000 per year for five years, the price tag is daunting for some city commissioners. Rev. Jerry Bishop reminded the pastors that Grand Rapids employed the W.A.R. model earlier in the 2000s and it had great success in reducing violence, but that when that funding went away, the model was dropped, and violence increased. Bishop also noted that the city is wary of adopting programs that require long-term funding. On the other hand, other city commissioners Chapman has spoken with believe that they could find foundation grants to continue with Cure Violence if we experience success with it. He believes the model is, "a bridge this city needs."
So what can pastors do if they think the time is ripe for bringing Cure Violence to Grand Rapids? Chapman suggested:
In addition, Chapman asked for prayer: "I get the feeling this will be a wild summer. Realism is Loyalty has some street teams out to try and get ahead of it, but there's huge urgency."
There are two public City Commission meetings in June: Tuesday, June 5, at 7:00pm, and Tuesday, June 12, at 7:00pm. The location for the June 5 meeting is to be determined (check here for updates). The June 12 meeting will be at the City Commission Chambers in City Hall (300 Monroe Ave NW, 9th Floor). Linc Up generally holds a community dinner before each meeting (5pm at the Linc Gallery, 341 Hall St. SE), and then heads over as a group. Click here for more information.
This was our final group meeting until September. Please keep watching the Facebook page and website for information on summer events that relate to our core purposes for gathering: to bring about justice, unity, and reconciliation in our city. Thank you for being part of this work during our 2017-2018 season.