News & Opinion

Groups Call for More Preventative Funding as Violence Continues

Following reports of four homicides in Charlotte in less than 36 hours, local advocacy organizations have called on Mayor Vi Lyles and Charlotte City Council to invest more in violence prevention by increasing the budget for the city’s existing JumpStart safety micro-grant project.

JumpStart, which Queen City Nerve reported on back in March, helps connect local grassroots organizations with funding through micro-grants of either $500 to help with a one-time event or $1,000 to help fund an ongoing project. On April 30, local advocacy group Action NC sent a letter to city leaders calling for them to increase the annual budget for JumpStart from $100,000 to $500,000 in 2020.

The city reached 44 homicides on Monday night following a shooting death in the parking lot of Lempira Restaurant on South Boulevard, putting Charlotte on pace to see more homicides in a calendar year than ever before. Three people were shot and killed in separate incidents throughout the city on Sunday.

At a press conference on Monday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Captain Chris Dozier said there is “no rhyme or reason” to the recent spike in violence.

At a press conference in February, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney listed a number of actions CMPD has taken to curb the violence, including increasing the number of Crime Reduction Unit officers in certain areas, creating follow-up tasks for officers in response to shooting incidents to prevent retaliatory attacks and partnering with mental health professionals to form Community Policing Crisis Response Teams, which launched over the weekend.

Chief Kerr Putney speaks at a press conference in April about the first quarter 2019 crime stats. (Photo courtesy of CMPD)

Community organizers, however, believe it’s up to them to confront the rise in violence.

The city’s JumpStart program was developed in part by Action NC through one of the organization’s offshoots called SAFE Coalition that focuses on community safety. The program was based loosely on the Cure Violence model, which treats community violence as a disease and looks for a cure based on an in-depth partnership between the public health sector, community organizations and people that have inflicted harm or been victims of harm serving as “Interrupters” in the conditions that lead to community violence.

SAFE Coalition helps connect grassroots organizations around the city with JumpStart funding through the Charlotte Community Relations Committee (CRC). After JumpStart launched in 2018, helping fund 60 programs and events throughout that year, violent crime, including homicides, dropped from the previous year.

Action NC stated in a press release on Tuesday that, while the program has had positive effects on the community, the micro-grants aren’t large enough to make a sustainable difference.

“In its current form, the JumpStart program has such a small budget that it is impossible for the grassroots organizations leading the charge to do more than hold one-time events or build capacity to fully address the spike in violent crime,” the release read.

In March, Apryl Smith of Affected by Eve, a youth advisory council that focuses on conflict resolution and peer mediation that received a $500 micro-grant through JumpStart in 2018, told Queen City Nerve that while she was appreciative of the funding, it was only enough to buy t-shirts and materials for her students.

When asked about the potential for an increase in JumpStart funding, city council member Braxton Winston said it would be something the council would discuss with the city manager in the coming week.

“The micro-grant program is something that I’ve seen some success with and when we put it in the intent was one to be successful and upon that success see how we could expand it, so I definitely think that’s on the table,” Winston said. “The manager presents his budget to us next week so we’ll get to see what that’s going to be looking like and move forward potentially.”

SAFE Coalition
Robert Dawkins of SAFE Coalition (Photo by Hector Vaca)

According to Action NC’s press release, an increase in funding for JumpStart could be used toward four goals: to fund grassroots community organizations to conduct neighborhood outreach in a more sustainable manner; increase the number of grassroots organizations participating in the JumpStart program; allow CRC to hire a staff person devoted to reducing violent crime, or pay for multiple employees to work part-time on violent crime prevention; and increase ownership of local grassroots groups in producing violence prevention solutions and increase their coordination with the city’s work to reduce violence.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of the NAACP sent out a similar release on Tuesday morning calling on the city to raise the annual JumpStart budget to $500,000

“We believe these grants should be issued to organizations who have the capacity to create impactful, tangible and sustainable change,” read the release, which was signed by NAACP Charlotte-Mecklenburg President Corine Mack.

The city already doubled the JumpStart budget from $50,000 to $100,000 in 2019, and SAFE Coalition and other community partners are currently working to connect more organizations with funding.

Press releases from Action NC and NAACP Charlotte-Mecklenburg stated that leadership from both organizations will be attending budget committee meetings and speaking during public forums about the need to raise the budget for JumpStart in coming weeks.

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