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Louisville advocates say different approaches to curb gun violence would help kids

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Advocates say the current approach to preventing gun violence in Louisville isn't working.

May saw the highest number of homicides and nonfatal shootings in Louisville so far this year. Violence prevention advocates say the city needs to treat gun violence as a public health crisis and focus on a multi-agency approach.

There have been 75 homicides and nearly 160 nonfatal shootings so far this year, according to data from the Louisville Metro Government Gun Violence Dashboard.

Over the weekend, there were at least eight shootings. Louisville Metro Police Homicide Unit Commander Lt. Les Skaggs said 16 people were shot and three of them died.

One of those shootings, at a party near Pleasure Ridge Park in southwest Louisville, left five children and two adults injured. LMPD’s nonfatal shooting unit is investigating.

On Monday, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg responded to the spate of shootings over the weekend and said the city needs help from Frankfort and Washington D.C. to give local authorities the tools to enact laws that would help “get illegal guns off the street and to stop people who have illegal guns from using them for the wrong reason.”

“We can do that while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners that have them for legal and productive reasons,” he said.

One city agency – the Office of Safe and Health Neighborhoods, or OSHN – has been at the forefront of the city’s violence prevention efforts, including a focus on youth.

But Greenberg’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would cut $2 million from the budget for OSHN, a department that has not received consistent city funding over the years.

Also in Greenberg’s proposed budget is $242 million earmarked for LMPD, most of which would go towards officers’ wages and benefits. It also sets aside more dollars for equipment and body camera technology, and is an 8% increase over the department’s current budget.

Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, who led OSHN from late 2015 to early 2020, said if no city department is going to be held solely responsible for violence prevention, police and jail budgets should go down.

“None of the evidence about what works to prevent violence is supported by our budget decisions we're making. We're not seeing investments in evidence based approaches,” he said this week.

Abdur-Rahman said the city should leverage multiple city departments, such as the Department of Economic Development, Parks and Recreation, and agencies working on housing services and public health.

He said the “whole government approach” to address violence prevention can include partnering with public schools. Abdur-Rahman said he would be curious to know how students who returned to school after the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns were doing, especially students from vulnerable populations.

“Because we know that one of the greatest risk factors is disconnection from school for young people. And so during COVID, we know that we actually don't think we know the full effect of how young folks were disconnected in that moment,” he said.

A 2023 report from the now-defunct local nonprofit Greater Louisville Project emphasized the need for sustainable funding for agencies like OSHN and how, in the past, a wave of homicides involving young people followed budget cuts to youth development programs.

Christopher 2X, executive director of Louisville violence prevention nonprofit Game Changers, said Greenberg’s approach of calling on lawmakers to help get illegal guns off the street seemed to have good intent.

“But those who understand the nature of the issue in neighborhoods, you know, even if you have those strong laws, in fact, there's still something going on with kids and young individuals feeling that ‘regardless of the laws, I feel no consequences,’” he said.

2X said it’s important to treat gun violence as a “disease” and a public health crisis, and that adults need to play their part in violence prevention by having conversations with kids and young adults about gun violence in their communities.

“Because the children are looking up at the adults and asking, when these situations occur, ‘How can I see a better day?’ They don't even have to verbalize that language. But their feelings, their energy, is constantly asking adults to help us get to a better space.” he said.

Breya Jones contributed reporting.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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