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‘We don’t have to live like this': Louisville Urban League demands action against gun violence

Cities Unite Director Anthony Smith speaks at a podium at a news conference about gun violence.
Sylvia Goodman
Cities Unite Director Anthony Smith spoke at a news conference with the Louisville Urban League and called on lawmakers and communities take action to curb gun violence.

The Louisville Urban League held a news conference Thursday to demand concrete action from policymakers to curb gun violence.

Lyndon Pryor, the interim president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said the gun violence that thrust the city into national headlines recently feels like a regular occurrence to many residents.

In the Old National Bank shooting April 10, six people including the shooter died and eight were injured. Two people were killed and four injured in another mass shooting at Chickasaw Park later that week. There have also been several other fatal shootings in Louisville in recent weeks.

“We are again the focus of national spotlight … for being the next in an incredibly long list of cities to experience a mass shooting event,” Pryor said. “But while the spotlight might be new, the realities of gun violence are all too familiar for our community.”

At a news conference Thursday, Pryor pushed lawmakers at the local, state and national levels to invest more in community violence reduction programs and community well-being, and to reform gun laws.

LUL said Kentucky gun deaths in 2021 were 25% greater than three years prior, just before permitless carry was legalized in the state. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun deaths and injuries in 2021 cost the state $5 billion.

“The data is clear. Guns are costing us lives. And frankly, if that doesn't matter to you, they are costing us money,” Pryor said.

Some of the legislative reforms Pryor called for include so-called “red flag” laws, universal background checks on gun sales and a waiting period to purchase weapons.

Pryor said he is aware that state laws prohibit local governments from enacting their own stricter gun laws, but LUL is calling on Louisville Metro Council to act anyway.

“It is past time for us to speak out and say that this is what is right for our city. And if somebody, whether that be the [attorney general] of the state, or somebody else wants to come out of the shadows and sue us for it, then let them sue. Because we have to declare what is right for Louisvillians,” Pryor said.

At the news conference, the Community Foundation of Louisville also announced four new funds to help the victims of gun violence and prevent further violence. Two of the funds will put cash in the hands of survivors and families of last week’s two mass shootings — one for Old National Bank and another for Chickasaw Park. The funds will be administered through the National Compassion Fund.

The other funds will support nonprofit organizations. One will provide grants to organizations that provide relief and support to survivors of gun violence including mental health resources, medical treatment and funeral assistance. Another is aimed at reducing gun violence.

Ramona Dallum, the vice president of community engagement for the Community Foundation, said multiple people asked the group to create a fund for the Old National Bank survivors, but some told her no one would give money to support Chickasaw Park survivors.

“We all know what happened in a well-resourced, highly respected center business. And the casualties were well known and highly respected. The other was at a public park in an under-invested community at a historically Black park. And the casualties were only known to their friends and family,” Dallum said. “But both incidents took or harmed the lives of our neighbors. Shouldn't we as a city place value on the lives of all of us?”

Dallum said the funds are in some way a challenge — “a test” — for the community to invest money equally for all victims of gun violence regardless of neighborhood or demographic.

The funds are part of the Community Foundation’s new strategic plan, according to president and CEO Ron Gallo. As the foundation re-evaluates its priorities and how it creates change in the community, Gallo said they will also consider engaging in lobbying efforts.

“[Philanthropy] is a wonderful vehicle in concept for resilience and strength, innovation, and an expression of generosity,” Gallo said. “But it has also been way too often a holder of the status quo.”

Moving forward, Gallo said the foundation will look through an “equity lens” for all of its work, including how and to whom it distributes its resources.

Beyond calls for policy change, LUL also called on media organizations and other groups to humanize victims and perpetrators of gun violence equally. He pointed to coverage of the Old National Bank shooting in which some news outlets reported on the life of the shooter. Lyndon said other perpetrators do not receive the same treatment.

“If you can understand how somebody gets to that spot, to that point, then we can deal with not getting other people to that point,” Lyndon said. “We have to do better with both perpetrators and victims, in terms of their humanity.”

Lyndon said those perpetrators could be released back into society someday after serving their sentences, and the only way to break cycles of violence is to address root causes.

Cities Unite is an organization focused on reducing violence and building safe communities. Director Anthony Smith said sometimes it doesn’t surprise him when people don’t react to rising gun violence in certain neighborhoods.

“Because we don't value young Black men and boys,” Smith said.

Smith said it would take more than new laws to reverse the systemic causes behind gun violence. He called on business owners to employ more people from communities most heavily impacted by gun violence. He asked parents to check on their children, help them access mental health resources and keep “guns out of their hands.”

“We need to move different as a city, as a state and as a country if we truly want to make sure that people can live another day,” Smith said.

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

News Youth Reporting
Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.