Jacksonville, FL — After the mass shooting at the Jacksonville Landing, triple shooting following the Raines-Lee High School football game, and fatal shooting of a 7-year-old girl in a robbery-gone-wrong, city leaders are looking at a different approach for fighting back against violence.
“Either we do nothing, and keep standing on the sidelines, and you see what we’re getting. Or we all try to do a little more,” says Councilman Reggie Gaffney, during a recent budget hearing.
Gaffney has put forward a $300,000 proposal for a “Stop the Violence” initiative, which would funnel through the Kids Hope Alliance. The funding would be used for small grants for grassroots nonprofit organizations that work on fighting violence and overall bettering their communities. Gaffney wants to target organizations that are already “in the trenches”- they know their neighborhoods, they know who’s at risk, they know how their community will respond to different tactics- and have new ideas that they haven’t been able to get off the ground, because they’re strapped for resources.
“We’ve gotta do something- like I said- to stop this violence, to get these kids back on track, because these are our kids, and these are our greatest investment,” says Councilman Sam Newby.
IN DEPTH: Jacksonville's City budget proposal
KHA already has $50,000 for grants like this in their proposed budget. The $300,000 enhancement will be debated by the City Council Finance Committee during a budget hearing Thursday, and if the Committee signs on, it would be considered as part of their vote on the overall $1.2 billion budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, ahead of the start of the next fiscal year.
Not wanting to wait for the next fiscal year, Curry has now moved $50,000 from executive branch reserves to the City’s grant office, in order to fund grants similar to what the Council is working to budget for. Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa told the Finance Committee that they would target faith-based community organizations that need administrative assistance to implement their programs. He says Curry wants to move “lightning fast” on getting these grants out, and they will rely on the processes already in place for solicitations to receive and rank proposals for funding.
“I am heartbroken by these senseless acts of violence that are impacting children, both as victims and perpetrators. We must create a path that shows our youth a better way- one of hope and opportunity,” Curry says.
If all the proposed dollars come through, that would be $400,000 for this initiative. The KHA had this $50,000 in the existing year budget as well, but Newby says they had 15 requests, and could only fund five with that level of money.
Another possible enhancement the Finance Committee will weigh is $60,000 to KHA for grief counseling, trauma-response services, and burial costs for children exposed to and victims of violent crime. KHA Joe Peppers says they want to stand up a full response team for trauma and grief counseling, but while they work on that larger vision, this funding would allow them to start contracting some services.
The Finance Committee overall praised a new focus on mental health initiatives for local children, although the question through the budget process continues to be if this is the best investment and the right place to budget for the initiatives. Councilwoman Lori Boyer raised the question of whether programs addressing violence in the community should be put through the Public Service Grants process in future years.
Councilman Bill Gulliford added that he sees the violence in this city now as fundamentally different than that of the past, wherein he believes youth now don’t know right from wrong, as opposed to prior generations who knew the difference, but ignored it. He’s putting the blame for that on parents, but offering that one organization that addresses that issue and may deserve some of this grant funding is “Operation Empower Parents”.
Gaffney made it clear that he thinks it’s important to secure the funding, but then allow experts to determine which groups should get it.
This funding push is one of many public safety-centered requests in Curry's budget proposal. There is also money to establish a "Real Time Crime Center", the establishment of a task force to review the City's network of surveillance cameras, and more. WOKV continues to work through the budget proposal, and will continue to update you as we learn more.