Detroit’s Violence Decline: Community-Led Initiatives Pave the Way for Change

By Biba Adams, Contributing Writer


In the ten years since the Detroit bankruptcy, the city has grown and evolved – giving us the label as a “Comeback City.”


The evolution has been demonstrated in a number of ways, and one has been through the current downward trend in violence in our city. Once known as “Murder City,” the epidemic of violence in Detroit is improving due to the support of local government, police, and community violence intervention programs.


“We’re getting better with the support with this organizational model and this community model that we see now,” explains Darryl Woods, who has been a community activist in the city for nearly 30 years. “There’s been, you know, there’s been a lot of challenges, challenges and a lot of areas in terms of being able to get young people connected to resources and opportunities and things of that nature. It’s so when you deal with a hopeless population, then that’s what you kind of see a lot of hopelessness, or when you can bring some real, meaningful, significant, impactful help to them that help bring about hope. Because young people don’t want to know how much you know, until they know how much you care.”


FORCE Detroit is one of several community violence intervention programs that use several key approaches to violence prevention: assessment, relationship building, intervention, wraparound support, and ongoing mentorship.


In addition to the work that the organization does locally, it has also participated in national learning communities and community organizing networks seeking to advance Community Violence Intervention Work, including the 2022 White House Community Violence Intervention Initiative, the Live Free Campaign, and most recently the CVI Academy at the University of Chicago.


“As people of faith, we know that our country’s legacy of racism, violence, and economic exploitation runs counter to what is prescribed in our most sacred texts,” the website notes.


“Sadly, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world is also one of the most violent and punitive. With almost 12,000 gun murders a year (more than the annual death toll of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War) and the highest incarceration rate in the world, we find ourselves in a moral crisis—a crisis which disproportionately impacts the poor and communities of color.”


Woods shares that the Detroit approach “is a holistic approach is not a law enforcement approach only, you know, although they play some roles in this. It’s not a governmental approach, but it’s a community approach. And it’s an approach that is driven by love, concern, and resources.”


Activist Teferi Brent, who is the men’s minister at Fellowship Chapel and serves on the Governor’s Black Leadership Advisory Council as the statewide Safety and Justice Chair, notes that the conversation around what is contributing to the downward spiral is nuanced. Brent praises the prosecutor’s office and the mayor. However, it also credits improvements in Detroit Public Schools, including the reduction in suspensions and the dropout rate along with a rising graduation rate.


“There is no such thing as the school to prison pipeline–there is a poverty to prison pipeline. Schools are not created to send people to prison–socioeconomic conditions in which the school system exists sends people to prisons, right, white supremacy sends people to prisons, racism, structural racism since people in prison, not schools, I wouldn’t dare disrespect the good work done by Black educators in this city by suggesting that the only thing they do, but the primary thing they do is send black babies to prison. There’s too much great work being done by the principals and educators in Detroit.”


Additionally, Brent notes that the commitment by the City of Detroit to fund community violence intervention programs and to create more employment opportunities and safe spaces for residents.


“Our mayor is quite literally putting his money where his mouth is,” Woods says.


Last summer, the city announced that six community partners had been selected for neighborhood Community Violence Initiative contracts.


Each selected group is responsible for reducing homicides and shootings in a 3.5 to 4.5 square-mile area, called a CVI Zone, using their own violence prevention strategy. Applicants were empowered to propose a specific approach based on their experience, expertise, and knowledge of the local community.


According to the press announcement, the program is funded by the American Rescue Plan. Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison, who led the program’s development, announced the six groups selected: Detroit Peoples Community, Detroit 300, New Era Community Connection, FORCE Detroit, Detroit Friends and Family, and the collective of Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, Denby Neighborhood Alliance, and Camp Restore, which represents one group.


Together, these organizations have decades of experience preventing and responding to violence – but ShotStoppers will be the first time that the City of Detroit provides funding to strengthen and expand CVI services and measure results to determine which approaches work best.


“The city has made a real effort to create safer places spaces, and able to put resources in community type centers, community centers, and safe havens for our youth to be able to experience positive programming,” Bettison said.


“But there’s nothing like the boots on the ground that we see now people who directly engage in, but those who have been in long term incarceration, or those who are on probation, or parole, or those who are struggling in our schools and things of that nature, making sure that there’s some mentoring and some coaching opportunities for our young people, those are the things that are making a huge difference.”


Woods explained that he was a victim of gun violence. He was shot at the age of 14–and then just a few years later, he was sentenced to more than 20 years behind bars for a violent crime. He notes that never receiving support for his trauma affected his life in a major way.


“Just today, I talked to a young man, he’s, he’s on probation. And, he has to take the GED. So, I was able to connect them to a GED program that has a stipend attached to it. So, while he’s studying, he can make some money. He’s also working at night, and he’s only 21 years old, but he’s determined to keep himself engaged so that he won’t be in a position to reoffend. That’s what mentoring can do.”


This is the second of a 10-part series that will dive deeply into FORCE’s mission and the impact CVI groups make toward the goal of violence reduction in communities.








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