OPINION: It Takes a Village to End Gun Violence in Cumberland County

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BRIDGETON, N.J. -

As we are all aware, the frequency of gang and gun violence has far reaching consequences. It affects our ability to improve our local economy and to recruit and retain businesses.  It lowers our property values and negatively influences social economic outcomes, like graduation and employment rates.   It forces taxpayers to absorb the costs of medical care when those without insurance are injured. This violence is truly a public health crisis that goes well beyond the criminal justice system.

Every time there is a shooting, I sit back and wonder what will it take to awaken the conscience of our community.  Will it be the death of a beloved senior or a five year old caught in the cross-fire?  As I think that it may only be a matter of time before another tragedy reveals itself, I pledge to breathe life into my community by finding solutions (no matter how difficult or daunting that task may be) rather than breathe death into the community by complaining about how bad it is (and doing nothing to solve the problem).

WATCH (Part 1): Jennifer Webb-McCrae Talks with SNJ Today about THRIVE CC. 

What I am learning is that the majority of solutions will not be found in the criminal justice system.  The criminal justice system alone cannot solve the gang and gun issues in our community. It is too costly, both in dollars, and in lives. Arrests and incarceration cannot be our only responses.  To truly solve this problem, we must rely on the old African proverb that says “It takes a village (meaning family and community) to raise a child.”  As I say this, I know that some will reply that it is not their responsibility to raise other people’s children.  In response, all I can do is draw upon the sentiments of Dr. Martin Luther King and say that if we fail to find solutions as a community we will “perish together as fools.”

This past fall, the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency’s Safe and Thriving Communities program awarded Cumberland County nearly $740,000 to help prevent and reduce gang and gun violence. Cumberland County was one of five awardees for this initiative.  Other awardees were Anne Arundel County, Maryland; Richmond, Virginia; Gary, Indiana; and St. Louis, Missouri.  We are very proud of this accomplishment and know that in Cumberland County – one of the poorest counties in the state of New Jersey – these funds MUST be put to good use toward stemming the tide of gun and gang violence.

We named our initiative, CC THRIVE (Cumberland Collective to Help Reverse Inequality and Violence Everywhere).  The initiative is an effort to address and reduce gangs, guns, and youth violence, as well as the impact of this violence on youth and young adults, ages 10 to 25 in Vineland, Millville, and Bridgeton—our largest municipalities.  We have convened a group of stakeholders, including Freeholder Director Joe Derella, school and housing authority administrators, mayors, law enforcement, youth serving organizations, faith-based leaders, and community members as our Steering Committee. We have already met 3 times to begin to understand the gang and gun violence issues in our communities.  In the coming months, we will be charged with recommending appropriate solutions. 

As part of this process, we seek to engage the community as to what you think causes gang and gun violence and what the solutions to these problems could be.  It gives you a chance to get involved and be part of the village.  As a first step to your involvement, I ask that you make a small investment of time. We are anonymously surveying community members (and youth through a separate survey) to get your perception on how gangs and gun violence affect your neighborhood.

The surveys can be found at: http://njccpo.org/thrive/

I humbly ask that you take the Community survey and encourage others to do so as well. (Youth can take the Youth survey.)

I also invite you to attend one of our three community conversations, which will be held as follows:

Register to attend at millvilleconversation.eventbrite.com

 

Register to attend at vinelandconversation.eventbrite.com

 

Register to attend at bridgetonconversation.eventbrite.com

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and concerns about this very important issue while we chat and chew.  We need you to be part of the solution.  We need you to help breathe life into our community.  We need you to help at-risk youth become responsible adults.  We need you to be part of the village that puts an end to gang and gun violence in Cumberland County.*

*At the end of this process, the CCPO will submit a strategic plan to the federal government.  If accepted, there will be well over $500,000 available to implement programs and solutions directly to the community.  

WATCH (Part 2): Jennifer Webb-McCrae Talks with SNJ Today about THRIVE CC. 

 

 

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