Sunday, 3 Mar 2024

This Californian Is Working to Reduce Gun Violence

Gun violence continues in America on a daily basis. There have been 72 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and we’re only on Day 48.

This week, three students were killed by a gunman at Michigan State University. Last month, shootings roiled California — in Goshen, in Monterey Park, in Half Moon Bay.

However, much of America’s gun violence goes unnoticed because it happens in poor communities with chronic crime issues. Hours after the shooting that left seven farm workers dead in Half Moon Bay, an 18-year-old died and several people were injured in a shooting in Oakland that received relatively little attention.

But according to DeVone Boggan, founder of an organization called Advance Peace, in most cities a shockingly small number of young people are driving shootings. For example, when Boggan began his violence prevention work in Richmond in 2009, law enforcement experts told him that 70 percent of the violence was tied to just 17 people, mostly under the age of 20.

So Boggan, who was working for the city at the time, decided to try something new. After surveying law enforcement, local communities and gang members, he selected 21 people who were considered the most likely to commit gun violence in the near future. He then enrolled them in a mentorship program devised to teach them crucial life skills, healing from trauma and empathy for enemies, and to help them find a career path away from violence.

Members of this “Peacemaker Fellowship” were paid up to $1,500 a month, depending on their engagement level.

The project has been enormously successful, and Advance Peace is now active in California and three other states. The White House recently named Boggan as an adviser to its Community Violence Intervention Collaborative. Nearly 480 people have gone through the program, which includes intensive one-on-one mentorship and even travel to countries including South Africa, Jamaica, France, Britain and Mexico.

Here is a conversation with Boggan, lightly edited for clarity and space.

What is the basic idea behind Advance Peace?

It’s simple. If you can engage those at the center of gunfire, you can reduce gunfire.

That means working with them every day to help them to first understand that they have other options available to them to resolve the daily conflicts that they are navigating. They have folks in their ear telling them, “Go, go, go.” They rarely, if ever, have anyone in their ear saying, “Wait, pause. Think about this.”

How effective has this been at reducing violence?

We started in Richmond in the mid-2000s. And when we got there, there were nearly 50 firearm-related homicides a year and nearly 300 firearm-related incidents where there was an injury. In 2022, Richmond had 50 shootings with an injury. And just 14 firearm homicides.

More on California

That’s how you know it’s working, because that’s the trajectory in every one of the cities — the number of shootings plummets. Once you start working with those individuals who are at the center of all of that stuff.

How many California cities are you working in now?

Our first two cities outside of Richmond were Sacramento and Stockton. Then we moved on to Fresno, Woodland, Vallejo, Antioch and Pomona. Vallejo, Antioch and Pomona are just getting their legs, so we’re just really getting them up and running. We have also worked in Salinas and San Francisco.

And then outside of California, there is Fort Worth, Texas; Rochester, N.Y.; Lansing, Mich.; and Orlando, Fla. We’re looking at Portland and Milwaukee in 2023.

So you tend to work in midsize cities with outsize gun problems. How many people are actually driving that violence?

I’m going to tell you, man, I’ve found myself blown away by four things. One, it’s a small group of people generally responsible for most of the gun violence in the city. It’s not 200 people, it’s a handful of guys. Two, that small group of people are rarely going to be indicted or prosecuted for their gun crimes.

Three, most of these guys aren’t being served, supported, engaged or given attention by any public system or community-based system of care. They’re invisible. Then finally, most community and public systems of care don’t have the capacity to do anything with this population.

I found myself thinking it’d be easier to change these individuals than try to change this whole system.

Is it hard politically for a city to tell their citizens they’re going to start paying people not to commit gun violence?

Yes. Especially if you frame it that way. You should let folks see the results. If we’re paying $1,500 over nine months, that’s not a lot of money. If it’s working. And I’d say, hell, if we can stop gun violence at $15,000 a head — if that’s working versus spending a million plus every time a person is shot in one of these shootings — I’ll take that any day. And I think most people would.

I was being a little bit pithy there. Because what you’re actually paying them for is to engage in life-changing experiences. One of which is travel, correct?

Absolutely. Many, if not most, of these individuals have never left their city. And many of them haven’t even left their neighborhoods unless they’re going to another neighborhood to do damage.

There’s a whole lot of world and a whole lot of life out there. So we want to expose them. I think most people understand that exposure can enhance one’s life, can enhance one’s knowledge about what’s possible. It’s very difficult to dream about stuff that you don’t even know exists. And so a major part of this transformative travel element is simply to get these guys out of what they know and into a bigger world.

For more:

Read a profile on Boggan from 2017.

The rest of the news

Ban on forced prison labor: In an effort to end forced labor as criminal punishment, lawmakers in California and Nevada are advancing legislation to remove “involuntary servitude” from their states’ constitutions, The Associated Press reports.

Senate seat: Representative Barbara Lee filed federal paperwork Wednesday to enter the race for the California seat in the U.S. Senate currently held by Dianne Feinstein, who is retiring after her term ends next year, The Associated Press reports.

Health inequity: In a recent report, more than half of Black Californians surveyed said they believed that at least once in the last few years, their race affected the quality of health care they received, The Los Angeles Times reports.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Constitutional policing: The Los Angeles County sheriff has created an Office of Constitutional Policing to deal with allegations that deputies within the Sheriff’s Department are associated with local gangs, The Associated Press reports.

Renters winning elections: Candidates who rent in Los Angeles won a number of significant local elections in November, LAist reports.

Destroyed embryos: A Los Angeles couple filed a lawsuit against a company that makes oil used in fertility clinics, saying it was toxic and destroyed their embryos, The Los Angeles Times reports.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

Officer’s funeral service: Gonzalo Carrasco Jr., who was killed in the line of duty at the end of January,  was memorialized and laid to rest on Thursday. Officers from across the state attended his funeral, at Selland Arena, The Fresno Bee reports.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Homeless outreach program: A homeless outreach program in the Castro district has helped almost half of the neighborhood’s “hard-core unhoused people” into shelters, SFist reports.

YouTube C.E.O.: Susan Wojcicki, the chief executive of YouTube, will step down from her role.

Juror pay: San Francisco has a pilot program increasing some jurors’ pay to $100 a day, and the lawmaker who sponsored the program is now proposing to expand it statewide, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

What we’re eating

Pasta with fried lemons and chile flakes.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Christian Williams, who lives in San Francisco. Christian loves visiting Mendocino:

“Mendocino is such a beautiful California seaside town, famous for so much and so over-the-top picturesque it almost seems completely contrived, but if you peek around the refurbished bed-and-breakfasts and expensive shops and cafes, you can still see the heart of the town — a charming and somewhat funky seaside paradise of close-knit community built around hardy coastal living, a once-thriving fishing and timber industry nearby in Fort Bragg, a love of gardens and all growing things and a passion for fantastic California-focused food and drink. There’s a deep peace there by the sea, and that’s why I keep returning to it as often as possible, though time and tragedy and change have reshaped it somewhat. Even now, living much closer to this part of the world than I used to, the views I have of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge from my home in San Francisco emotionally pale in comparison to my heart-memory of Mendocino and its crashing waves, its beautiful blue skies, its chilly foggy days and its friendly, gentle people.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

And before you go, some good news

Last fall, The New York Times sent photographers to cities, suburbs and rural areas in California and six other states to document how different libraries respond to the needs of their communities and the many ways in which patrons find a haven in each one.

The modern library isn’t just about books. It keeps its citizens warm, safe, healthy, entertained, educated, hydrated and, above all, connected.

You can pop in when your Wi-Fi is on the fritz or when you need a break from your roommates. You might go there to dry off or to cool down. To study for algebra or to read a romance novel. To meet a friend or to be alone. For a bit of excitement or for a moment of calm.

These photos capture all of that.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday. Enjoy your weekend.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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