If you have tweeted about or talked about “defund the police”, “criminal justice reform” and / or about the surge of violence sweeping America, I beg of you, please read and share this article.
This is hard for me to write, because I care so deeply about the work that we fund that I don’t want to seek any attention for it for fear that it invalidates why my partner and I spent our time and money funding this work, but this work needs amplification and more financial support because it is literally saving lives and making communities safer.
Through a very chance encounter, I ended up walking into Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s only SuperMax facility, which changed my entire life. I remember the exact date, because it fell on the weekend of my Partner, Jessie’s 40th birthday. She would have come as well but our children were too young to leave at home. I called her at the end of that first day, and told her that I had met some of the most incredible men I had met in my entire life and that if it weren’t for the commitments we had, I would want to spend the rest of my life working in service of these men. That night, she started searching for houses to buy in Crescent City.
Every single trip I took, and eventually, we both took together, deepened our understanding of the root causes of incarceration, and the more I understood and confirmed the root causes, the more I wanted to prevent people from entering prison in the first place.
At the end of 2019, Jessie and I went proactively searching for the best ways we could actively invest in preventing violence before it starts and at the very least, prevent the cycle of retaliatory violence from continuing. Hearing the stories of the men we know and have come to trust, and in one rare case, also the story of the family of survivors of the man a friend of ours killed, we came to realize that so much violence was entirely predictable.
After months of research, we found out about David Kennedy and the work his organization, the National Network for Safe Communities, has been helping implement in cities that have suffered from epidemics of violence. Over decades, he and now the NNSC have developed what are now recognized as the most effective evidence-based approaches to serious violence. Their strategies rapidly and dramatically reduce homicide, gun violence, intimate partner violence, and the like; dramatically reduce arrest and incarceration; and reset relationships between police, communities; advocates, and offenders themselves. The problem with preventing violence is that it rarely makes headlines. As the saying goes, “if it bleeds it leads” and the social media algos don’t amplify stories like the ones I’m sharing in this article. But Kennedy and the NNSC have in fact brought to real maturity what legions of new — and in many cases uninformed — voices are demanding, a “new kind of public safety.”
On my birthday this year, I had asked my vast and wealthy network of friends and colleagues to donate to NNSC and was only successful in raising $10,000. We make a monthly $5000 donation (which we receive no tax credit for as we are Canadian) and make additional gifts throughout the year as well. I write this by no means to brag but to quantify the size of the investment that we’re making in hopes once again, that colleagues and friends who are considerably wealthier than us will at least consider matching our monthly contribution.
Today, I’m really proud to share two articles that talk about the profound changes in Chester, Pennsylvania — one of the poorest, most violent, and most challenged city in the United States — that have resulted in a dramatic decrease in homicide and an increase in homicide clearances which is the successful prosecution of someone charged with homicide. Homicide clearances can also be an indicator of a community’s willingness to actively assist police in their investigation, a proxy of the relationship between the community and the police force. Here is the first of the articles which reports that homicides are down in Chester County by 63% and fatal shootings have fallen 43% from the year prior, and the clearance rate of 50% is the highest since 2004. While both articles note that everyone is rightly taking great pains to not cite a single reason why, the Prosecutors in Chester County believe that it’s the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighbourhoods, which — in my words — is the playbook built and advised by the National Network for Safe Communities that has contributed significantly to this increase in safety. To quote the article
Activists and community leaders agree, praising the program as a rare instance of positive attention for, and resources being diverted to, a city that has long felt abandoned.
Jessie and I both believe that what ails America the most is a feeling of abandonment. Obama’s message of “Hope and Change” and Trump’s message of “Drain the Swamp” are in fact, two sides of the same coin and why somewhere between 11% to 15% of those who voted for Obama voted for Trump in 2012. Ever since the 2008 crash and bank bailouts, there has been a crisis of governmental and institutional legitimacy which can be summarized as “government is ineffective in making my life better and is likely to blame for the things I wish I had but don’t have.” Indeed, both parties have trafficked in blame.
But what’s worse, is that a majority of Americans don’t understand how their Government actually works and I think even more Americans don’t understand the delineation of responsibilities and just as crucially the limits between the elected officials of their City, their State and their Federal Government.
What America needs more than anything else, is at a hyper-local level, for people to be able to see change around them. Witness their community becoming better, their anxieties and fears palpably decreasing. I know of no greater way to deliver this type of change than an increase in safety.
The second article quotes the following statistics:
Looking at the time frame from November 2019 through June 2020 versus November 2020 through June 2021 showed a 66.6% decrease in homicides, from 24 to 8, and a 34.4% decrease in overall shooting victims, from 77 to 49, according to figures presented by the District Attorney’s Office this week.
This is a direct product of Kennedy’s and the NNSC’s work, way of operating, and “theory of change.” The Delware County district attorney, Jack Stollsteimer, started focusing on gun violence in Philadelphia as part of the DOJ’s national Project Safe Neighborhoods in the 1990s; Kennedy helped launch PSN out of his groundbreaking work in Boston in 1996, and worked with Stollsteimer in Philadelphia. The NNSC has worked repeatedly since then with elected officials and advocates in Chester, preparing the ground. When Stollsteimer was elected DA in 2019, NNSC worked with him pro-bono in helping the city implement this initiative (almost always, when it is invited to help cities, NNSC has to pay their own way, in full or in part, as cities like Chester simply don’t have the funding required, and even well-funded cities need more help than they can pay for and NNSC wants them to prioritize local actors and programming). In short: while politicians, activists, and the media agonize over how to address homicide and gun violence in the United States, how to reshape policing, and how reset relationships between police and black and brown communities, the NNSC is doing exactly that.
We are asking you to consider a monthly donation to NNSC which you can make here, because more cities than ever want to implement their own version of this playbook, but Jessie and I remain as part of only a handful of monthly donors supporting their work, and this is work too complex and specialized to attract most corporate and foundation funding.
It’s uncontroversial to say that relationships between most communities and their police departments, especially those in the highest crime areas, dropped to a new low. It is up to people far smarter than we are to correlate the drop in trust with the spike in crime, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption to see the link. The question becomes, how to repair this relationship?
As both articles indicate, the core ingredients for repairing the relationship are already part of the long-established NNSC playbook, however, there is an opportunity that has opened for the first-time ever because State Violence dominated enough of the mainstream media cycle and Social Media amplified the anger and sowed divisions about what to do about the State Violence that everyone knows we need to make change but no one can agree on what to do.
We trust that David and his team can help communities not only become safer as measured by a reduction in criminal violence, but also in helping reduce State Violence and the only thing holding them back from being able to help make more communities safer is donor support. Please join us in making a monthly donation to support their work here.