Funding Supports Expansion of Community Violence Intervention Ecosystems in Areas Hardest Hit by Gun Violence
February 22, 2022—Amid record levels of gun violence that disproportionately impacts young men of color in cities across the United States, Ballmer Group announced an $18 million gift to help four national organizations coordinate to address the crisis and build the public health ecosystem necessary to curb this brutal pandemic.
Ballmer Group—a philanthropic organization co-founded by longtime philanthropist Connie Ballmer and her husband Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, founder of USAFacts, and chairman of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team— supports leaders and organizations to address structural racism and barriers to economic opportunity through its support for issues such as early learning, K-12 education, college, and career pathways, housing, behavioral health, and criminal justice reform.
“At Ballmer Group, we believe in the power of communities working together to make progress on complex issues. We’ve seen first-hand how gun violence affects the communities we care about, and we have supported community violence intervention in two of our focus regions of Southeast Michigan and Los Angeles, as well as in Chicago. The learnings from these efforts have convinced us that this approach can and must be scaled more broadly,” said Steve Ballmer. “We are committed to supporting community-led violence intervention and building the public health ecosystem necessary to end violence.
Last year, gun violence claimed over twenty thousand lives, an increase over the record-breaking numbers of 2020, when gun violence rose by 30 percent nationwide compared to 2019. Communities of color, and especially Black Americans, bear a disproportionate share of this violence—in 2020, Black males aged 15 to 34 accounted for 42 percent of gun homicide victims, despite making up just two percent of the population.
While the recent spikes in violence have brought renewed attention to the urgent crisis of gun violence in this country, this epidemic has devastated communities of color for decades. Between 2000 and 2018, 162,000 Black Americans—including 139,000 Black men—died violent deaths; among those, 85 percent were killed by gun violence. Much of this violence stems from systemic racism that has led to pervasive inequities such as poverty, barriers to health care, and insufficient educational and economic opportunities.
The community violence intervention groups working together include the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention (the HAVI), the Community Based Public Safety (CBPS) Collective, Cities United, and the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR).
“Ballmer Group’s decision to recognize violence as a public health crisis sends a powerful message,” said Fatimah Loren Dreier, executive director of the HAVI, a national organization working in 85 cities across the country to build a network of hospital-based violence intervention programs (HVIPS), a component of the violence reduction ecosystem that provides wraparound services to victims of violent crime while they are recovering from their injuries to reduce the likelihood that they commit gun violence or are victimized in the future. “It’s a message that will impact our nation, highlighting that not only do these evidence-based, data-driven solutions work, but they are within reach for all cities. It is our obligation as a society to provide the necessary resources to bring these solutions to scale,” added Dreier.
The award is a five-year grant to build community violence intervention ecosystems and bring together the growing collection of organizations, hospitals, frontline violence interrupters, and local governments working in various ways to end community violence. This approach complements existing public safety infrastructure and has shown incredible success when adequately funded and embraced by local governments.
There have been a number of documented successes using CVI around the nation, including Oakland, California. Once a city with one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country, after implementing a comprehensive, data-driven strategy, Oakland experienced six consecutive years of gun violence reduction that culminated in a 50 percent overall decrease.
A leading figure in Oakland’s success is David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR), a non-profit organization that provides technical assistance, consulting, research, and organizational development in the fields of juvenile and criminal justice, youth development, and violence prevention. The success is outlined in NICJR’s report, Oakland’s Successful Gun Violence Reduction Strategy, and Muhammad consults with over a dozen cities that want to implement similar work. He says the key to success is to focus on proven techniques that can stop the violence.
“We know the community-driven strategies that are effective in reducing gun violence,” said Muhammad, whose organization is one of the four groups—along with Cities United, CBPS Collective, and the HAVI—that serve as technical advisors for the White House’s 16-jurisdiction Community Violence Intervention Collaborative. “Violence intervention efforts that are intensive, structured, and intentional to intervene with those at highest risk of gun violence can result in significant reductions in shootings and homicides. We are excited to partner with Ballmer Group, who has recognized the need for broad stakeholder engagement across community members, service providers, law enforcement, and government agencies to work together to produce safety, justice, and healing.”
“Investing in community-based solutions and providing comprehensive training and healing services to frontline community based public safety practitioners is central to our strategy to reduce violence in cities hardest hit by violence,” said Aqeela Sherrills who was a key organizer of the historic 1992 “Peace Treaty" between the Crips and Bloods in the Watts section of Los Angeles, and today serves as Executive Director of the Community Based Public Safety Collective and Senior Advisor to Hyphen Partnerships, who manages the workflow of the White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC). Aqeela’s work also informed the development of the city of Los Angeles Gang Reduction Youth Development Program (GRYD) which is the nation’s second-largest public investment in community-based solutions.
"Before we described our coordinated strategy as an ‘ecosystem’ for safety, The Ballmer Group invested in place-based strategies to address violence and crime,” said Sherrills. “On behalf of the many CVI organizations and practitioners who have literally given their lives to make our communities safe, I’d like to thank The Ballmer Group for your visionary leadership and continued support in raising the bar for future investors in community-based public safety,” added Sherrills. For the past 30 years, Sherrills has labored nationally and internationally to illuminate community-based solutions as a complementary strategy to policing
“Community Violence Intervention is a complementary strategy to policing, not an alternative” added Sherrills, whose work in New Jersey helped the City of Newark, become a national model for CVI under the leadership of Mayor Ras J. Baraka through the development of CVI strategies that led to five consecutive years of decreases in homicides and overall violence.
For Anthony Smith, executive director of Cities United, an organization supporting a national network of mayors who are committed to reducing the epidemic of homicides and shootings among young Black men and boys ages 14 to 24 by 50%, the “time for change is now!”
“Now is the time for us to Reimagine Public Safety,” said Smith. “To dream of a world where young Black men and boys, and their families are safe, healthy, and hopeful. To do this, we must be willing to move away from systems that punish and control, to ones that are grounded in justice, restoration, and healing - our new models must center those most negatively impacted. As we strive to reduce the epidemic of homicides and shootings of black men and boys, we must be innovative in our approach, and with any other disease, we must evolve our thinking as it spreads. Reimagining Public Safety will not be an easy, cheap or comfortable process - it will take bold leadership at all levels - leadership that values Black Lives, we appreciate Ballmer Group for understanding this.”
All organizations agree that “the time is now” to shift the narrative away from one where law enforcement is solely responsible for addressing gun violence to one where community and community-led solutions play a large role as well in ending this plague and building a healthy public safety ecosystem.