"Richmond just feels different, it feels safer, healthier. Does this appear to be true from where you sit?" I was posed with this statement and question from a long time Richmond resident in late 2011.
My response was simply "yes, ... We are witnessing the power of healthier decision making by the young men most responsible for creating the risk for everyone else, young men who have avoided criminal consequences, young men most responsible for firearm assaults in Richmond."
In 2012, Richmond benefitted even more from the power of such good decisions.
We who serve at the Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) work tirelessly to create conditions that produce a thirst for living -- an addiction to life, if you will.
Our work is designed to help the city's most disconnected young men develop a strong desire to live a healthy, positive and productive life. When a young man who is prone to gun violence develops a strong desire to live, the city benefits.
Young men in Richmond are choosing to negotiate conflict in much healthier ways.
Much remains to be done. Making such changes requires humility in what we can accomplish, and patience with our progress.
In 2012, Richmond suffered the loss of 18 victims of homicide, 14 by firearm. I am told this represents the lowest number of homicides and firearm assaults in more than a decade. But we can't afford to lose a single human to gun violence in Richmond. The
Therefore, to sustain this momentum, we have to further ensure that there are a variety of other institutions in Richmond working together on behalf of those who the ONS serves.
We must commit to developing a sufficiently scaled community-based initiative focused on developing a competent services infrastructure for these young men. These services must be created to focus on their needs, no matter how unorthodox or unpopular. The services must be intense and follow similar operational standards and have a keen focus on accountability.
This also includes working to revitalize and restore the communities and support systems that these young people currently encounter everyday "back in the neighborhood."
Hope is not found in any single strategy. In 2013, the ONS will continue to deepen our partnership with and empowerment of those we have identified as having the greatest impact on reducing gun violence in Richmond. We understand that "peace on the streets" must come out of justice lived and done by healthier young men and women in Richmond in the face of enormous odds.
We will also focus on facilitating the required types of opportunities that produce healthier outcomes for those most impacted by gun violence.
The work of the Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety could not be successfully accomplished without the partnership of local and regional law enforcement agencies as well as community-based service providers. These agencies are instrumental to ensuring that the ONS is focusing its limited resources on the right people to achieve maximum impact.
The Office of Neighborhood Safety also could not facilitate the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship without the generous support of our philanthropic partners.
Most importantly, we are profoundly grateful to the young men who participate in the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship. Our theory of change concludes that we as a city must partner in a new way with those who can best influence the elimination of the gun violence that happens here. The Fellows help us to do something that we in past years have demonstrated that we cannot accomplish without them.
DeVone L. Boggan is neighborhood safety director in the city of Richmond.