Opinion President Biden is listening to communities on violence prevention. Congress should, too.

(Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post; iStock) (The Washington Post)

Fatimah Loren Dreier is executive director of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention. David Muhammad is executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.

On a warm June evening in New York, 20-year-old Nyric was hanging out on a friend’s stoop when, without warning, the crack of nearby gunfire punctured the night air. Nyric heard his friend scream for help; then everything went black. In a similar neighborhood in Oakland, Calif., 22-year-old Anthony had just gotten word that his best friend was shot. Enraged, he took to social media, furiously firing off threats of revenge against his friend’s killer. (Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.)

Sadly, gun violence plays out every single day in Black and brown communities across the United States — where homicide is the leading cause of death for Black boys and men and the second leading cause for young Latino men. The hardest hit are young Black men ages 15 to 34, who make up just 2 percent of the population yet account for an astounding 37 percent of all gun homicide victims. Much of this violence stems from systemic racism that has led to pervasive inequalities such as poverty, barriers to health care, and insufficient educational and economic opportunities.

Over the past 20 years, while the rest of the country has largely ignored their plight, communities of color and their allies have taken matters into their own hands. With few resources but a wealth of dedication and ingenuity, they have devised a slate of innovative strategies that — if effectively implemented and adequately funded — could end the scourge of cyclical gun violence.

Though the specifics may vary, evidence suggests that the most effective approaches integrate a range of coordinated strategies that identify individuals at greatest risk of violence, leverage credible messengers who coordinate wraparound services, and monitor healing and growth through long-term engagement. Examples include street outreach, hospital-based violence intervention, the Oakland Gun Violence Reduction Strategy, Peacemaker Fellowships, community-based public safety and targeted trauma-informed care.

Nyric awoke in Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital. As he lay there, grappling with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, a woman appeared in his doorway. She introduced herself as Tashia, a violence intervention specialist with the Kings Against Violence Initiative’s hospital-based violence intervention program. Tashia said she was there to help Nyric get back on his feet. She visited every day while Nyric recovered in the hospital. She was a great listener, and Nyric opened up about the gang he’d recently joined and how he’d left his mom’s house to escape their constant fighting. Before he left the hospital, Tashia coordinated with local street outreach colleagues who could help Nyric return home safely. In the months following his discharge, she continued to visit Nyric and helped him get into a job training program. Through it all, she emphasized that seeking revenge would only cause more trauma and that there was a path to a better future.

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In Oakland, street outreach workers were alerted to Anthony’s social media threats and introduced him to a life coach from the same neighborhood. The coach was formerly incarcerated and had turned his life around, which legitimized him in Anthony’s eyes. He used this credibility to build a relationship with Anthony and encourage him to abandon violence.

The violence intervention systems that supported Nyric and Anthony are among the most effective in the nation. New York’s Crisis Management System deploys outreach workers to engage with individuals at high risk for violence and connects them to employment services, mental health care and trauma counseling. For those who have been violently injured, violence prevention professionals intervene while patients are in the hospital to discourage retaliatory violence, attend to the psychological trauma and provide intensive case management services. New York’s comprehensive network of violence prevention strategies has been credited by the city with producing meaningful reductions in gun violence over the past decade.

In 2012, community and faith-based organizers in Oakland pushed the city to adopt a comprehensive, data-driven strategy that connects credible messengers with those identified as the highest risk for violence. These “life coaches” link clients to wraparound services that support their ability to heal and thrive, such as job training, safe housing and trauma-informed therapy. Once a city with one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country, after implementing this comprehensive approach, Oakland experienced six consecutive years of gun violence reduction that culminated in a 50 percent overall decrease.

Research suggests that with sufficient and dependable sources of funding, these strategies have the power to address the root causes of violence. They also generate jobs and boast considerable cost savings for cities.

Anti-violence advocates have fought for years to secure more consistent funding for violence intervention initiatives like those in New York and Oakland. During his campaign, President Biden pledged to support these efforts through a $900 million investment over eight years. Shortly after he took office, his director of domestic policy, Susan Rice, met with leaders of community violence intervention organizations, who argued for a $5 billion, eight-year investment in cities plagued by the highest rates of gun violence. Last month, Biden released his American Jobs Plan, which calls on Congress to make the $5 billion investment proposed by advocates. And in a Rose Garden ceremony this month, he announced changes to 26 grant programs that will direct an additional $1 billion in vital support to violence intervention in Black and brown communities.

Today, Nyric is working toward a career in construction. He credits the support from Tashia and many others for the web of safety they provided when he needed it most. And, after a year of personal, intensive work with his life coach, Anthony moved past the desire to violently avenge his friend’s murder. He earned his GED, and today he holds a steady job.

Biden’s actions to support community violence intervention are truly historic. Now, Congress must pass the president’s American Jobs Plan — including the $5 billion investment in community violence intervention. Instead of more heartbreaking tragedies and shocking statistics, let’s put these young men on the path to a better, more peaceful life.

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