Members of 38 churches, congregations and community groups gathered Tuesday to pray for an end to violence that they said has claimed 107 people so far this year.
Meeting at the Historic Mt. Zion AME Church, they once again asked Sheriff T.K. Waters to refine his department’s violence intervention program, one that ICARE said does not seem to be stemming the violence.
The Rev. Victor Cole said half of the people killed this year were under 30 and about 80% were Black.
“I am angry about the violence. I am sick of seeing people of color being gunned down in our city year after year,” Cole said, surrounded by about 50 ICARE members. “This has to stop. On average, 120 people were murdered every year in this city since 2016. Jacksonville has been Florida’s murder capital for the last 20 years.”
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office did not respond to two emails requesting reaction to ICARE’s proposal.
The Rev. Adam Gray said the Sheriff’s Office should contract with the National Network for Safe Communities to use its official Group Violence Intervention program, which ICARE said appears to be stopping murders in Boston, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and elsewhere.
“Group Violence Intervention can be used in Jacksonville to dramatically reduce the number of people who are dying,” the Riverside Church pastor said. “Other cities have seen reductions ranging from 34 to 63% in weeks or months, not years and years. GVI was developed by the National Network for Safe Communities. This approach focuses on adult members of gangs that are driving the violence.”
ICARE — the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment — has worked for years with local church leaders and members on crime issues, most recently asking the Sheriff’s Office to institute civil citations for adults.
An adult civil citation program could be used for lesser, nonviolent offenses, instead of arrests that can leave people with a criminal record, ICARE said. Waters has said he won’t institute adult civil citations, which exist in other sheriff’s offices and which State Attorney Melissa Nelson supports.
The website for Group Violence Intervention states that it “minimizes harm to communities by replacing enforcement with deterrence, and fosters stronger relationships between law enforcement and the people they serve.” National Network officials first used the program’s strategies with “Operation Ceasefire” in Boston during the 1990s.
The organization’s staff work with community members to deliver a moral message against violence as police put criminal gangs on notice about the consequences of more violence, the website said. Using community support and outreach providers, intervention and help is there for gang members.
“It brings together city agencies and organizations like law enforcement, federal and state attorney’s offices, social services and community groups and moral voices,” Gray said. “Together, they deliver a common message — the shooting has to stop. Those who shoot will face prosecution to the full extent of the law. But those who want to get out of the lifestyle will get help, services and support.”