Guns for cash is working out pretty well in one California town.
Richmond, California, was once considered one of the most dangerous cities in America. The homicide rate was growing at an alarming rate as a result of increased gang activity. But today, the city has become a model of reducing gun violence by adopting an unconventional practice of paying potential gun-related criminals to stay out of trouble.
Joseph McCoy, one of the town’s “Neighborhood Change Agents,” spoke with NPR about his job. “If it is a shooting, we definitely go to check out see what’s going on, because we try to create a pause on the next shooting," he says. “We’re trying to figure out how to keep the next shooting from happening.” The “Change Agents” don’t see themselves as law enforcement; in fact they are quite the opposite — all ex-cons, who are respected within the community.
McCoy is part of the greater initiative to curb gun violence designed by DeVone Boggan. Operation Peacemaker Fellowship, which started in 2007, began by targeting individuals who were believed to be responsible for a large amount of gun-related activity. "What I continued to hear was folks believed that there were 17 people responsible for 70 percent of the firearm activity in our city. Seventeen people! We can do something about that,” he says.
After they were identified, those 17 individuals were given an opportunity. The fellowship offered them counseling, social services, a job, and even a chance to travel if they developed what Boggan calls a “life map.” The fellowship also paid them $1,000 a month for nine months.
The results of the fellowship are clear — since its inception, Richmond’s murder rate has been cut in half. While there is still work to be done, it's clear that it just takes a better opportunity to get these guys to turn their backs on gun violence.
Boggan maintains that the money is just a part of the program's success. "If you believe that simply paying someone a stipend will reduce gun crimes in cities where gun crimes are long and loud, you're wrong," he insists. "We've done something much, much more comprehensive than that."
The success has garnered notice across the country, as other cities that struggle with gang-related gun violence, such as Washington D.C., Oakland, Calif., and Toledo, Ohio, are adopting similar programs.
While this kind of program may not result in a complete abolishment of gun violence, giving those who may turn to such crimes an opportunity to become positive members of the community is more than enough reason to see the merit in this initiative.
Gun violence impacts cities all across America, perhaps Chicago, most of all, which has suffered hundreds of deaths during its gun violence epidemic. Catch up on tragic news out of Chicago, of the shooting of a young boy who appeared in an anti-violence ad, with BET News: