Mike Johnston is our new mayor. Will he make good on his promise to make Denver “the safest city in America”?
I have my doubts.
Why? Because we’ve heard this before. Take for example outgoing Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2022 Public Safety Action Plan, one result of which was, a year later, this headline in The Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle: “Denver Becoming America’s Crime Capital.” As a factual claim it might not hold water, but as a barometer of neighborhood-level concerns about crime it is compelling evidence.
Let me tell you what is happening outside my door. On my street on the Northside, near 38th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Denver, we had three cars broken into, a catalytic converter stolen, and an intruder in a neighbor’s home. Close by, there was a double homicide; both victims were shot dead. Elsewhere in the city, a family friend’s son and his buddy were murdered in what appears to be a drug deal gone very wrong. Don’t forget the fentanyl buy turned mass shooting after the Nuggets’ championship game. And another shooting during the victory parade.
What fuels my pessimism is Johnston’s virtue signaling about reducing gun violence. In campaign ads he made the bold claim that, as a state legislator, he stood up to the gun lobby and helped pass statewide Universal Background Checks and a High-capacity Magazine Ban. Which did absolutely nothing in terms of improving public safety in Colorado.
In fact, the “common-sense” gun control that Johnston heartedly promotes has been a disaster. A slight decrease in homicide by gun in 2014 (continuing a downward trend) was followed the next year by a rise in gun violence deaths. In the three most recent years, the annual statewide firearm homicide rate has been greater than what was recorded in Colorado during Denver’s notorious 1993 “summer of violence.”
In his public safety plan, Johnston mentions the Club Q tragedy and enforcing the Red Flag Law. Yet he remains strangely quiet that the City of Denver was given specific warnings about the tattoo-shop mass shooter and did nothing to stop that massacre.
Johnston promises to enact a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of any firearm in Denver, offering in his campaign website: “The evidence from researchers and policymakers across America is clear — waiting periods save lives.” The evidence cited is the 2017 study “Handgun waiting periods reduce gun deaths” That study implies that waiting periods reduced firearm deaths by 5 percent to 20 percent. In 2014 when that study was completed, the CDC reported 33,594 total firearm deaths. In 2021 they reported 48,830 firearm deaths. Exactly how did waiting periods save lives?
The big reason I don’t believe Johnston’s plan will keep us safe is that he never mentions the obvious: Gun violence is a symptom of violent crime, which is the result of gangs, drug trafficking, youth violence, and the hopelessness that seeps from socio-economic and criminal-justice inequities.
If Johnston is truly committed to preventing gun violence, then he should consider the example of the Omaha 360 Violence Prevention Collaborative, an initiative created in Omaha, Neb., by their African-American community’s Empowerment Network to improve public welfare and safety. The collaborative’s partners and stakeholders include neighborhood associations, nonprofits, churches, educators, local law enforcement, the Omaha NAACP, the Urban League, and the Malcolm X Foundation. They focus on preventing violent crime by improving relationships between the community and the police while addressing contributing factors such as unemployment, housing, and education.
After 20 years, Omaha 360 has been key to reducing the city’s homicides by more than 50 percent. And as of June 12 this year, the city of Omaha recorded ONE homicide, compared to more than 30 documented by the Denver Police.
Although I am no fan of the Giffords Law Center, I have to give them props for their participation in Oakland Ceasefire, where they teamed with the city of Oakland in an effort similar to Omaha 360. From 2012 through 2018, Oakland Ceasefire was instrumental in reducing homicides by a remarkable 40 percent.
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However, in 2019, because of the pandemic and “defund the police,” Oakland Ceasefire all but dissolved. Now homicides in Oakland are back in the triple-digits and the gains made earlier were wiped out.
Another proven resource for curbing gun violence is the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, a network of programs that uses medical staff and community members to reduce recidivism and retaliation.
Why can’t Johnston ask the Colorado Office of Gun Violence Prevention for a mini-grant to fund a team of Denver public safety stakeholders to visit with Omaha 360? Another mini-grant could be used to bring representatives from Omaha 360 here to present strategies and lessons learned. A third mini-grant could be used to explore how to integrate an Omaha 360 program with HAVI.
Why in the years of “common-sense” gun control have we not heard of Omaha 360, Oakland Ceasefire, or The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention? Because the only effective programs to prevent gun violence have nothing to do with gun control. Could it be that those advocating “common-sense” gun control have an agenda other than public safety? Nothing they pressed for has made any of us safer.
No matter what paths Denver takes to reduce gun violence, none will succeed until our new mayor pursues an honest strategy addressing public safety.
Mario Acevedo lives in Denver.
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