Thursday 8 December 2022
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Open Forum Held on Ending Gun Violence in Rochester, Community Shares Ideas with Police Chief

By Miguel Lopez

The Gun Violence Prevention forum was held at Danforth Community Center Photo by Miguel Lopez

With the City of Rochester heading towards an all time high in homicides, Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan and Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, yesterday, listened to proposals from advocacy groups and community members on ending gun violence in Rochester. 

Rochester has had a total of 43 homicides in 2021 to date, which puts the city at risk of reaching 70 homicides by the end of the year, 18 more than last year’s all time high of 52.

The forum was held at Danforth Community Center, off of West Ave. The meeting was open to the public, but those who attended needed to RSVP. The media was not allowed to record the proposals being presented to Chief Herriot- Sullivan and District Attorney Doorley, who said the decision was made in order to “keep the discussion rational and steady.”

The need for more discussions about curbing gun violence was highlighted as community leaders want to see a bigger involvement from the leaders of the Strategic Planning and Intervention Network when discussing what are the direct safety needs of their community. 

“…you know, that a black child born in poverty is 10 times more likely to be killed in homicide. Most children born into poverty, struggle their whole lives,” Save Rochester-BLM founder and organizer Mike Johnson said. “Just a few decades ago. You gave us the right to drink, actual drinking fountains. Just a few decades ago. You gave us the right to sit with you at your schools as equals at your schools just a few decades ago.”

“I demand that those doing the strategic planning, go to the barbershops, go to salons, go to the little businesses that’s in their community, their churches,” said Dr. Kiah E. Nyame, a coordinator of the Office of Neighborhood Safety in the City of Rochester. “Talk to people at the elder high rise at the low-income housing at the higher income housing, right? What do they say they need for safety in every community?  

Dr. Nyame also said that taking guns out of the hands of potentially violent individuals should be seen as progress and believes that these individuals should have another opportunity to achieve their dreams and become contributing members of society. 

“We’re not going to be taking all with individuals and saying, oh, you on probation, you had a fight today. So now you gotta, you know, go back to jail. Now we, we ask for cooperation and leniency and that piece, and, you know, give them another opportunity because of the police, that person didn’t have a gun. That shooter didn’t use a gun, that’s progress.”

“You might look at it like it isn’t, but it is. when you get a shooter not to use a gun in the confrontation, they have improved,” Nyame said.

“We are going to put them through a process that makes them available for whatever it is that they dream of doing. They want to be a baker. Right. Okay. Do you have your high school diploma? No. So we have community organizations that you can get a high school diploma, not just a GED, right? They accomplish that.” 

The main point of these discussions between community leaders and city officials was to find concrete solutions to gun violence that Rochester has endured, with Chief Herriot-Sullivan saying she was more than happy to keep discussions going; however, no follow up meeting was scheduled after the event. 

With a lack of clear solutions from the forum, Doorley spoke on what discussions may come next and said they were pleased to see a unified effort from community groups and city officials to combat gun violence, which has plagued Rochester for generations.

“I just think it’s great that we get together and hear ideas from other groups, we really need to attack this violence as a community. We need to talk to one another… and come up with a strategy, we cannot keep working in silos. We have got to talk to the community, we have got to get the community’s help. It’s all hands-on deck. We’ve got to stop this,” Doorley said.

Doorley also applauded the early efforts of the new federal VIPER squads, a task force aimed at combating violence, homicides and gun crimes, which have made almost 200 arrests since operations began about two months ago. 

When asked if left up to her, would she keep VIPER in Rochester, she replied “I have to look at the numbers. If it is making a difference and making our community safer, absolutely.” 

However, while Doorley says shootings have been slightly down for the last month, she believes community engagement and discussions are a key first step in reducing gun violence rates.

“The numbers have gone down… it’s a good sign that the numbers have slightly decreased this month, but it’s only one month,” she said. 

“We have to keep going. We have to stop killing one another and we have to get these illegal guns off the street and make our community safe for everybody.”