By Tyronda James
There have been 12 homicides in the city since the beginning of 2022. Mayor Malik Evans said the violence and rampant guns is a serious problem in the Rochester community.
“We have to address it. Too many people have access to guns. Too many of our young people have access to guns,” Mayor Evans said.
“We are not just gonna sit by and let this happen.”
Joined by Interim RPD Chief David Smith and Victor Saunders, Advisor on Violence Prevention Programs, Mayor Evans recently spoke about the uptick of deadly violence in the city and the expanded efforts to address it.
Evans said he’s been in office just a little over 70 days and in that time we should be celebrating that 124 guns have been taken off the streets. “But unfortunately it is only the tip of the iceberg because it seems like for every one we take off the street, another two come in. And we know a bulk of them are not coming from Rochester. They’re flowing in here and we have to find a way to stop that choke point.”
City officials plan to meet with federal, state and local partners, including the U.S. attorney’s office, county sheriff, Rochester Police department, US Marshall, and other local state and federal partners to discuss the flow of illegal guns that continues to flow into the community and plans to stop it.
Evans said they also plan to continue its work with the Rochester City School District (RCSD).
“Not all of us alone can take care of that. So we have to stop the flow, but we also have to provide opportunities for people to know that there is another path.”
Chief Smith said most violent crimes that occur in the city are acts of violence between people who have some sort of previous association with each other. “We know that in most of these tragedies, someone knew what was going on and had they reached out it’s quite possible that an intervention could have taken place,” he said.
“The community needs to come together to end these senseless acts of violence most frequently, by the time the police department is involved, it is too late.”
Evans, Smith and Saunders echoed that one of the best path is the preventative one and plan to use every tool at their disposal.
Smith said he realizes the negative stigma attached to cooperating with law enforcement. “However, in our community, we are fortunate to have numerous social violence prevention agencies to help people peacefully resolve conflict before it turns deadly. Agencies, such as Pathways to Peace, SNUG, an anti-violence initiative that stands for “Should Never Use Guns”, Save Our Youth, Rise Up Rochester and the Center for Dispute Settlement are just a few of the many organizations that are available to help.”
Saunders stressed the fact that there are social agencies available to help situations before they escalate to violence. He said we are a city in mourning and so many families are affected and traumatized with the violence in the city and surrounding areas.
“We are dealing with a segment of our community. That’s showing total disregard for public safety, lack of empathy and spiritual bankruptcy,” he said. “We stand up here today. Offering assistance for you to turn in your guns, ask for assistance. Let us allow you to do something different than picking up a firearm to handle disputes and things of that nature.
All agreed that this is a problem for the entire community to address and are calling for the community to take action. “We all have a part to play to make our city safer,” Saunders said. “We have resources available within our community to assist in avoiding violence and homicide as an outcome.”
Some of the violence is being done by youth between the ages of 14 to 17, under Saunders leadership the city has committed to providing RCSD with eleven Pathways to Peace workers to work hand in hand with schools. Evans said the youth are often involved in these types of behaviors and need to be provided with opportunities.
The Summer of Opportunity Program (SOOP) youth employment program is one way the city plans to provide opportunities to youth as violence prevention. The program is for youth, students ages 14 to 20, Dr. Shirley Green Commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services said they are looking to employ at least 600 students this summer. The application process closes on March 26th. Green said the department is also working in tandem with Saunders and his team to make sure there are opportunities to work with individuals on probation as well to secure employment.
“We’re gonna pump more resources into those positive programs, because we think that’s a way to stop a lot of the violence. And we’re gonna focus a lot on prevention,” Evans said.
“We’re gonna do prevention, but we’re also not gonna tolerate lawlessness on our streets.”
To connect with Pathways to Peace, call (585)428-6339. For further summer employment placement and training information, call 585-428-6366 or email SOOP@cityofrochester.gov or apply at www.rocsummeryouth.com.