There are almost 12,000 gun murders per year in the U.S. (more than the annual death toll of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War) and they are the leading cause of death for African-American males and the second leading cause of death for Latino males, ages 18-34.
While many have thrown up their hands in despair over these numbers, proven strategies do exist. The U.S. Department of Justice gives a program called Operation Ceasefire its highest rating for reducing gun violence in U.S. cities. The strategy was developed in Boston in the 1990s and resulted in the complete elimination of youth homicides (an accomplishment that was dubbed “The Boston Miracle”).
Since that time, the strategy has been used in numerous other cities throughout the country with great success.
Through our organizing efforts we have worked with clergy, young people, police and criminal justice officials in cities such as Sacramento, Stockton, Union City, Oakland, Richmond, California, Flint, Michigan and Baton Rouge, Louisiana to reduce gun violence through a strategic initiative that saves young African-American and Latino men’s lives, as well as reduces recidivism in these communities. Additionally PICO federations and partners in Detroit, Fresno, and Indianapolis are working to strengthen and further the strategic implementation of this program, often known as Ceasefire.
THE CEASEFIRE STRATEGY
As opposed to “stop and frisk” and other strategies that damage the relationships between police and community members, Ceasefire is a much more refined and data-driven approach to building safe communities.
Through a unique partnership between clergy, community leaders, law enforcement agencies, and local service providers, the full community focuses its attention on the tiny number of individuals who are responsible for the vast majority of homicides in any given city.
Through a highly orchestrated “call in” process, law enforcement officials and trusted community leaders meet face to face with the most dangerous shooters and present them with concrete alternatives to their current lifestyle (with a promise of relentless and targeted enforcement for those who decline the services being offered).
The messaging is reinforced by case workers, street outreach workers, and clergy who walk “hot” neighborhoods and connect with the young men who are most at risk of either being a victim or perpetrator of gun violence. When implemented correctly, this carrot and stick strategy produces dramatic results in reducing gun violence.
The LIVE FREE Campaign has organized communities in some of the country’s most dangerous cities in order to implement the strategy (reductions listed below occurred in the span of 2-3 years):
Stockton, CA: 55% drop
Richmond, CA: 60% drop
Oakland, CA: 40% drop
Baton Rouge, LA: 33% drop
Camden, NJ: 42% drop
Recommended Reading: Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in America, written by one of the architects of Operation Ceasefire, tells the story of how homicides were dramatically reduced in Boston and other cities.
Many have questioned why, if it’s so effective, Ceasefire has not been implemented more widely.
First, even though they only account for a tiny proportion of annual gun murders, mass shootings tend to dominate the attention of lawmakers while the urban violence that impacts poor people of color remains largely dismissed by the general public as a “normal” or an expected dimension of inner city life (https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-gun-control-debate-ignores-black-lives).
Second, even in cases in which a city has implemented and had success with it, the strategy typically falls victim to changes in local government, competing funding priorities, or even its own success (when homicides decrease, cities move on to other priorities rather than making Ceasefire their default manner of doing business).
It is for these reasons that community organizing is a critical factor in ensuring the sustained success of this work. Communities must demand effective policing strategies and the community resources necessary in order to end the war-like conditions in their neighborhoods.
Through our organizing efforts, we work with clergy, youth, mothers of murdered sons, police departments, and criminal justice officials in cities around the country to help keep our cities safe.