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Louisville community members ask for investment in youth at first violence reduction town hall

Seated audience members, two in plaid shirts, are seen from the back. A man in a black blazer stands at a narrow whiteboard. He is pointing at some writing on the board.
Jasmine Demers
Residents and community leaders gathered at the city's first Violence Reduction Action Summit on Feb. 21, 2023.

Dozens of residents and community leaders gathered Tuesday evening to voice concerns and share their ideas for how to reduce violence in Louisville.

The conversation was hosted by the new mayoral administration in an effort to engage the community in violence prevention efforts.

Mayor Craig Greenberg was joined by leaders in the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, as well as interim Louisville Metro Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel.

“Tonight, we all have different experiences with guns and violence and the toll that it takes,” Greenberg said. “What we all have in common though, is we're tired. We're tired of the death, and the wounds and the losses, and the waste of good people and precious lives.”

He survived a shooting attempt about a year ago at his campaign office.

Louisville homicides hit an all-time high during the pandemic, peaking at 173 murders in 2020. Last year, the city recorded 160 homicides and hundreds of non-fatal shootings. There have been 23 so far this year.

Greenberg said he hopes these community conversations will increase trust between residents and city government and lead to action. The solutions and input collected at these events will be considered and put to use in the next city budget, he said.

“Tonight is about solutions. Tonight is about action,” Greenberg said. “And we're going to ensure that the folks who are living with the threats of violence in our city know that we are listening and responding.”

For about an hour during the meeting, attendees split into four groups to have deeper conversations about the challenges that communities impacted by violence face in working with city government and the actions they want to see.

Alesia Floyd knows all too well the impact of gun violence. Her 29-year-old son was shot and killed in 2020. She now serves as the Kentucky representative for Voices of Black Mothers United and said the end of violence starts with basic needs.

“We need to have affordable housing,” Floyd said. “If your kid can’t go to bed in a comfortable place… you got kids hanging out. They ain’t got a bed to lay on and they don’t want to go home.”

Other attendees spoke to the need for more community programs and centers directed at youth. According to a recent report by the Greater Louisville Project, young people between 15 and 24 years old are disproportionately victims of homicides, and in many cases they are suspects, too. At the same time, funding for youth development programs has been cut.

“I blame Metro [government] for the simple fact that they closed every single community center in Louisville,” said Rontele Shepard with No More Red Dots, a Louisville-based group that works to de-escalate potentially violent situations. “How can you expect these kids not to turn to gang bangers and gun dealers when you got nowhere else for them to go?”

Michael Springer with YouthBuild Louisville said, on top of a lack of programming, LMPD continues to criminalize Black youth.

“If you aim all of your attention at the young people in this community, you are creating a generation that is over-criminalized that will not trust anybody at this table,” he said.

Residents presented many other solutions, including the creation of youth associations and young adult emergency housing shelters, opening more community centers and keeping them open late as well as “genuine police reform” that keeps youth out of the system.

Overall, attendees asked for accountability and trust.

LMPD’s Gwinn-Villaroel said the department has already started inviting community members to come meet with them and learn more about what they do.

“Now we have community members actually coming and seeing the work that we’re doing. We're going over the numbers and the violent crime and seeing how many calls that we have that our officers are responding to on a daily basis," Gwinn-Villaroel said.

The community conversation came a day after two teenage boys were shot by an LMPD officer on Monday afternoon. The police have released little information about the incident.

The next community conversation around violence reduction will be held over two days at the end of March. City officials said they’ll be able to accommodate close to 400 people and that they will share more details in the coming weeks.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

News Youth Reporting
Jasmine Demers is an investigative reporter for LPM covering youth and social services. She is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email Jasmine at jdemers@lpm.org.

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