Fight gun violence on many fronts | Opinion

December 14, 2021 6:00 am

A Minneapolis police officer unrolls caution tape at a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

The most pressing issue facing Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey as he begins his second term is the ever-increasing gun violence that has propelled what may be a record number of gun-related homicides in the city in 2021.  

To confront violence in the city, Frey announced in early December a new Community Safety Workgroup, tasked with developing safety and accountability recommendations on violent crime, policing and accountability in Minneapolis.

This group, made up of nearly three dozen people, must look at addressing gun violence urgently if they’re going to fulfill their purpose. 

City leadership has a critical role to play in how Minneapolis prevents and responds to gun violence, even if laws addressing gun access would require action from state lawmakers.

For decades, the Minnesota state legislature has acted in ways that have flooded the streets of our cities and towns with guns, desensitizing us, normalizing American gun culture, and selling the myth that more guns make us safer.

Guns are easy to get. Minnesota doesn’t even require background checks on all gun sales. As a result, domestic abusers, stalkers and traffickers can buy firearms through a private sale, online or at a gun show, with no background check required by Minnesota law.

I know, because that’s why my aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell is dead. September 29th marked 18 years since my Aunt Shelley was gunned down inside the Hennepin County Government Center. The shooter purchased the gun for $60 through a private sale at a gun show, which still doesn’t require a background check in Minnesota in 2021. 

 For almost 20 years, I’ve been fighting at City Hall, the State Legislature, and U.S. Congress to improve gun reform laws, as well as to better fund and expand services for victims and survivors.

This is essential because, let’s be honest, with more than 400 million guns in civilian hands, gun violence isn’t going away. We’re experiencing a collective trauma as the spectrum of gun violence perpetually shifts from our families, to domestic abusers, to police against civilians, to small children in Minneapolis.

I’m concerned that Frey’s approach and past statements regarding gun violence have been too vague to implement. An Office of Violence Prevention can only do so much when it’s severely underfunded and understaffed. Minneapolis residents, even kids, are dying at unacceptable rates of interpersonal gun violence. 

I hope Frey is able to set political differences aside and successfully lead us beyond this moment and cruelly violent time. Survivors of gun violence have politely waited on our leadership for decades while we’re shot and our loved ones are stolen. In the spirit of a community, I offer the mayor some suggestions on where to start:

  • Better fund and staff your Office of Violence Prevention. You have genius in your presence with Sasha Cotton and Ferome Brown. Give them the money and support needed to build their staff. Let them build large teams capable of providing direct services to all victims and families personally impacted by gun violence.
  • Do more than merely visit organizations like the Family Partnership — they are the boots on the ground, working on anti-racism, disrupting intergenerational trauma, and violence prevention through preventing adverse childhood experiences . Work with these organizations that are deeply embedded in serving individuals here in Minneapolis.
  • Improve and better fund programs for youth, particularly around school breaks and in the evenings. Transform community spaces into true community centers, where youth can skate, play sports, receive wraparound services, help with schoolwork and more. For our city’s health, our youth must prosper.
  • Implement a peer co-responder model where survivors of gun violence who have special social-work licensing, trauma-informed training, and lived experience can co-respond to shootings and provide support and services to families on-site.

Survivors and families impacted by gun violence want change. We’re in pain. We’re angry at leaders who campaign on our loved ones’ graves, and turn their backs on us once elected.

I want our municipal, state, and federal leaders to remember that every day they refuse to force a discussion with their colleagues around innovative, survivor-centered policy to prevent and respond to gun violence, they are communicating their apathy in the face of our pain. Your greatest fears happened to us. And we are begging you to stop this. The time is now.

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Rachael Joseph

Rachael Joseph is the Founder of Survivors Lead, serves as Vice-Chair of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association and is a board member at Art Is My Weapon Minnesota. She was born and raised in south Minneapolis where she lives with her partner, two kids and a dog named Güs.