About the session
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many North American cities are facing higher rates of violence across the board. On one hand, violence plays the role of a chronic stressor and is linked to systemic and racial inequities that permeate our cities. On the other, it is also an acute shock, a traumatic event from which urban communities must find ways to recover and rebuild with equity, as we’ve seen in the wake of the wave of mass shootings that have shaken American cities in recent months. In both cases, violence has a direct link to community resilience and to the ability of communities to weather other shocks and stressors.
This tenth session of Cities on the Frontline brought a conversation initiated and led by the R-Cities’ Racial Equity in Resilience Community of Practice about the impact of community violence on urban resilience. In this space our presenters shared ways in which cities are rethinking their approaches to violence intervention as they strive to shape more resilient and equitable communities.
The session started off with a special message from Ron Harris, Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Minneapolis & chair of our Racial Equity in Resilience Community of Practice (CoP) which is a community of academic, philanthropic and private sector leaders that aim to achieve racial equity through the lens of resilience. The community of practice, Ron shared, was created at the beginning of 2020 when as the pandemic rolled in and exacerbated the resilience challenges in cities around the world including that of urban violence. What began as Chief Resilience Officers and colleagues reaching out to offer their support after a police officer brutally killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, became a series of more formal conversations and peer-to-peer learning groups that eventually transformed into this community. We realized, Ron said that equitable resilience must have a role in shaping our new normal. As opposed to other efforts that quickly die down, this community of practice became stronger over time and has been meeting consistently for the past two years to share voices, tools and workshops to make sure cities are better prepared to lead future efforts. Ron concluded his message by saying how proud he is to be a part of this community and emphasizing that the world in as a whole is in need of more community. He also invited the audience to stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to join this CoP.
Following Ron´s message, Megan Sparks the Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Atlanta and Jacquel Clemons Moore, the Director at the Mayor’s Office of Violence Reduction for the city of Atlanta took the floor to go more in depth into the big questions that cities have; what is causing violence in communities? and what we can do moving forward? To set the stage, Megan shared a couple of statistics regarding violence in the US, one of the most shocking ones included the fact that in the US, black people are 10x more likely to die by gun homicide than white people. Additionally, Jaquel, shared those cases in the US have increased by a 15% from 2019 to 2020 making the US an outlier compared to cities around the world and stressing the need for intervention. Violence, Megan continued has therefore been understood as a public health and equity crisis and much like a disease its contagion has spread through local communities. It is therefore key to start viewing the problem with a holistic approach that goes beyond law enforcement.
Atlanta specifically, Jaquel continued, experienced 158 homicides and with every homicide 94 violent injuries, therefore this issue is particularly relevant for this city. From their experience in recent years, Atlanta has learned that violence is actually predictable and this information can be used to generate a well targeted response. Some of the indicators of violence include past exposure to violence that can be further placed into three categories: interpersonal violence, systemic violence and intergenerational violence. All the types intersect and compound in the most disinvested communities disproportionally affecting young black and poor folks. Building resilience to respond to violence therefore requires equity, safety and wellness.
Starting in 2016, Atlanta has embarked in a journey to fight violence, however in 2020 this topic began to gain more importance and institutional and financial support. Now the city has a 4-pronged detailed strategy in place that they are in the process of implementing and that is informed and based on evidence and community input. This response involves immediate awareness, short term intervention, medium term prevention and long-term community transformation.
To conclude Megan and Jaquel acknowledged that a big challenge in building resilience in the face of urban violence, one of the major challenges they have identified is educating and working on behavior change in communities as well as among stakeholders since often times people are reluctant to change. However, the city is already leading important steps in the process and hope to announce new violence intervention programs in very soon.
Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Minneapolis & chair of our Racial Equity in Resilience Community of Practice (CoP)
“As we collectively participated in response and recovery efforts in our respective cities we realized that this network of practitioners and equitable resilience more broadly, must have a role in shaping our new normal and shaping our new world. Resilience must be our path forward.”
The Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Atlanta
“Violence spread exactly like a disease does and it is a contagion in our communities and by addressing it as such and taking a resilient approach and framework we can make a real dent in the violence that we see every day.”
Jacquel Clemons Moore
the Director at the Mayor’s Office of Violence Reduction for the city of Atlanta
“When we talk about gun violence it’s really important to talk about what’s at the root, you know, its oppression, it’s the disinvestment in communities, its poverty and who that is actually impacting. It is disproportionally impacting communities of color, black people.”