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What Happens When Community Violence Intervention Gets the Support It Needs to Thrive? | The Appeal

As cities look to make new investments in non-police responses to gun violence, the Bull City United program in Durham, North Carolina, shows the importance of stable funding and sustained commitment.


In April 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report on violence in Durham, North Carolina, which found that young Black and Latino men in the community were between five and six times more likely to be murdered than the average resident. The city had requested the study following years of concern about high gun violence rates, which had been trending upward even as other violent crimes and the overall crime rate were declining.


The Justice Department study identified a troubling pattern in the bloodshed. A huge share of the city’s gun-related homicides and assaults were occurring in the same neighborhoods—primarily communities of color that suffered from high levels of poverty. And at the same time that young men were being killed and injured at high rates, many of those responsible were being funneled into the prison system, thus getting entrapped in another form of violence: mass incarceration.


Clearly, the traditional methods Durham had been using to address this violence were not working. So political and community leaders in the city decided to try something new. In 2016, they created Bull City United, a community-based gun violence intervention program that aims to stop the cycle of shootings and retaliations through street outreach, conflict mediation, and social support.


In the years since its launch, the program has seen success in target neighborhoods, “bringing the shootings and killings down,” David Johnson, a program manager for Bull City United, said in an interview with The Appeal. “Just seeing everyday life improving in those communities is great.”


Johnson is a former gang member who spent around a decade in prison after being incarcerated as a teenager. He was hired by Bull City United as a violence interrupter in 2016 and is now one of the organization’s longest-serving employees.


Bull City United was the first program of its kind in North Carolina, and, following promising initial results, it has inspired at least one other similar organization in the state. Today, Bull City United remains one of the most prominent anti-gun violence initiatives in the South.

Similar community violence intervention (CVI) efforts have been steadily proliferating across the United States for decades. But only in the past few years has this approach to violence prevention attracted sustained national attention, driven by increased interest in responses to crime that do not rely exclusively on policing. Since 2021, a burst of media coverage and political advocacy has helped attract hundreds of millions of dollars in new state, federal, and philanthropic funding for CVI approaches designed to interrupt cyclical violence and tackle its root causes.


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