With rising gun violence in communities of color, we must fully invest in California’s Violence Intervention and Prevention program.
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In 2009, I was pained to bury a young student of mine named Larry Spencer. Like too many young Black and Brown men in this country, his vibrant and promising life was cut short as a result of gun violence.
At Larry’s funeral, I spoke to a room of more than 500 teenagers, and I asked them, “How many of you have been to more than one funeral?” Every hand went up.
“More than two funerals?” Again, every hand was raised.
By the time I got to 10, the congregation was weeping, half of them with their hands still in the air.
In that moment, it became clear: whatever we’re doing, it’s not enough.
Year after year, this country invests billions into a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests and incarcerates Black and Brown people, while consistently failing to deliver safety and protect the lives of young men like Larry.
Prior to the pandemic, violence was the leading cause of death for young Black men and boys in California, the 2nd leading cause of death for black women, and more than 84% of youth gun homicide victims were Black or Latinx. Last year, the nation experienced the largest single-year increase in homicides on-record, and in California, fatal shootings increased by 46% over the course of the pandemic.
This burden of rising violence continues to rest on communities of color, who were also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and its harmful effects on employment, housing and other social determinants of health to which many people of color have historically been barred access.
California must do more to repair generations of divestment from communities of color and rescue Black and Brown families from the worsening gun violence crisis in our state.
Research shows that public health approaches like street outreach and hospital-based violence intervention can help build safer communities by increasing access to jobs and expanding mental health services needed to address trauma in California’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.
Community-centered programs in cities like Oakland, Richmond, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Stockton and more are credited with reducing homicides by 34% to 79%. These programs are effective, but the state significantly underinvests in these strategies.
California has recognized the need to further invest in community-based solutions to violence by more than tripling the budget for California’s Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) grant program from $9 million to $30 million in 2019. Still, even at this elevated level, the state was unable to meet the need of eligible CalVIP applicants that requested more than $78 million in funding.
Accounting for the historic 46% statewide increase in gun deaths last year, California would need to invest at least $114 million dollars to meet the needs of our most impacted communities. But that’s not what happened in 2020. After the pandemic hit, budgets tightened, and funding for CalVIP returned to its woefully inadequate $9 million level.
In March of 2021, President Joe Biden signed The American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion federal COVID-relief bill with hundreds of billions of dollars in flexible federal aid intended to help state and local governments recoup resources that were lost during the pandemic. The administration has already signaled that these funds should be directed broadly and funding community violence intervention should be a critical national priority.
We must use our tax dollars in the state of California to prioritize healing and safety. The state can work toward this goal by leveraging COVID-relief funds to fully fund CalVIP at $114 million in this year’s budget.
Budgets are moral documents, and where we choose to invest our tax dollars speaks volumes about who and what we value. I call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to fulfill his obligation to California’s most vulnerable residents and rescue California from the epidemic of gun violence exacerbated by the global pandemic. Black and Brown communities are hurting, and we must meet the moment, not with rhetoric, but with action. Fund peace now.