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Breaking the cycle: Violence prevention leaders working to reverse deadly year

Posted at 6:27 PM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 19:27:29-05

MILWAUKEE — As of Dec. 9, 207 people have been killed in Milwaukee County. It’s a record no one wanted to break, but it’s had a greater impact on one community in particular.

Of all of the homicides in the county, 73.4 percent of the victims are African American, despite making up 27.2 percent of the county’s population.

“This is a crisis true for gun violence for decades looking at a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino men,” Reggie Moore with the Office of Violence Prevention said. “It’s something we look at as a crisis that it is.”

One of the latest victims is 17-year-old Lorenzo Williams Jr.

“I miss him every day,” 16-year-old Daesheona said of her brother.

In recalling her brother, Daesheona remarked on his positive attitude, love of dance and how happy he was. However, happy is not something she feels often anymore.

She has anger for her brother’s death.

Anger about his life being cut short at 17.

Anger that those responsible are still out there.

“I feel like they should die,” She said. “I don’t think they deserve jail. I think jail is too good for them.” They didn’t care about my brother’s life.”

It’s a very real look at how the cycle of violence can continue. Violence prevention experts say the ‘eye for an eye’ type of mentality is one of the reasons violence is perpetuated.

“We see violence as a disease,” Hamid Abd-Al-Jabbar, outreach supervisor for 414Life said. “It spreads from person to person. People who have been victims of violence, they are people who tend to be perpetrators of violence.”

In Williams’ case, he’s not the first member of his family to be murdered. His father was killed at 18 years old, before Williams was born. Now, Lorenzo leaves behind a 1-year-old daughter who won’t know a life with her father in it.

Abd-Al-Jabbar says getting involved in a family’s life to stop the violence is crucial to ending the cycle.

“The transmission is going from generation to generation to generation,” Abd-Al-Jabbar said. “We need to begin to interrupt that transmission. It needs to be investments in coming up with the cure, like they’re doing with the pandemic. We need to come up with a cure for violence.”

That cure will need to be much more than a single shot in the arm. Systemic issues facing the African American community are multifaceted, including, but not limited to, issues in education, quality affordable housing and health.

"A good education, having parents that teach you the right things, having a good job, good financial support,” Abd-Al-Jabbar said. “All of those things that every child, every person should have.”

Looking at violence as the cause disregards how these issues affect it in the first place.

“It’s not just about the absence of violence,” Moore said. “It has to be the presence of opportunity, the presence of health, the presence of well-being.”

Efforts from the Office of Violence Prevention look to address these factors. Groups like 414Life get involved on the ground level, to try and stop violence before it starts. The Office of Violence Prevention works on bigger picture factors dealing with well-being.

“You see elements of generational poverty and elements of generational violence,” Moore said. “All of those things are connected. We have to understand that connection and ensure when we talk about access to quality housing, living wage jobs and addressing conditions that have been generational in this country, those are all things we have to address if we’re going to really look at violence as a public health issue.”

It’s an issue that will have to start young to make a serious change.

Studies have shown African American men have less of a chance of making it to age 45 than white men face reaching age 65.

The homicide statistics bear out that theory. So far, 105 Black men under the age of 45 have been killed in Milwaukee County this year. That accounts for more than half of all murders, 50.7 percent. To make any serious dent in that statistic, Moore says everyone needs to be on board.

“When you talk about that feeling of life expectancy, will I see 21 or 25?” Moore said. “Now we have people questioning whether they’ll see tomorrow. This is a serious issue we have to address. If we want to make a difference, we have to make a difference and be committed to it because things are not going to change on their own.”

The Office of Violence Prevention says they’re already looking towards their efforts in 2021. They hope to get back to pre-pandemic crime rates. Before this year, they saw a steady, four-year decline in homicides and non-fatal shootings.

They want to get back to that as soon as possible, so little sisters like Daesheona don’t have to talk about their older brothers as just a memory.

“I’m going to keep talking about him every day,” Daesheona said. “If that was me, he’d be talking about me every day.”

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