Last month, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the Urban Institute, and the Joyce Foundation released Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence: A Road Map for Safer Communities. Our research debunked the notion that African Americans are less attentive to the problem of gun violence than police violence.
In compiling this report, we brought together and listened to residents of communities hard-hit by gun violence—faith leaders, formerly incarcerated individuals, law enforcement, elected officials, social service providers, community activists, and others. Most of the participants were black or Latino—people like Fathers & Families of San Joaquin Executive Director Sammy Nunez; Petersburg, Virginia, Police Chief John Dixon; and Wanda Montgomery of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Others were members of our steering committee and have devoted their careers to building safer communities—people like Gary, Indiana, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson; Rev. Michael McBride of PICO National Network; and Kayla Hicks of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. We then tested the ideas that emerged against a nationwide survey of 600 African Americans and 600 Latinos conducted by Benenson Strategy Group (BSG) and Ron Lester and Associates.
While about half of African Americans we surveyed nationally described police brutality (54 percent) and police misconduct (50 percent) in America as extremely serious problems, 80 percent of African Americans described gun violence in America as an extremely serious problem. Indeed, rather than discounting gun violence or seeing it in a silo isolated from police violence, many African Americans see the problems as interconnected. For example, 61 percent of African Americans agreed with the statement that “fewer guns on the streets would improve the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.”
Similarly, the communities with which we met thought improving police-community relationships was a key factor in reducing gun violence. Distrust that stems from arbitrary stops and discriminatory enforcement makes residents less willing to work with police, and makes communities less safe.
Solutions put forth by community members were supported by the survey research. Over 90 percent of African Americans and Latinos supported strengthening police accountability through civilian review boards, body-worn cameras, and racial bias assessment and training of police (including new recruits). Over 76 percent of both groups support prioritizing enforcement on higher-level gun violence offenders rather than lower-level “broken windows” offenders.
Community members also emphasized other solutions that address structural factors that underlie gun violence.