MILWAUKEE — Standing room only. On Tuesday, there was a candid discussion held among Milwaukee and other stakeholders about the city's spiking gun violence.
The meeting went on for about two hours. Parts of it were emotional as over 100 people sat together all in hopes of making Milwaukee safer.
“The idea is understanding the impact of community trauma, not just individual trauma,” said Jamaal Smith of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP).
There were powerful moments in a room filled with people invested in safer communities.
“The margin of error for their lives should not depend on one opportunity. Some populations get 20 opportunities. They get 20 chances to mess up. They are offered recovery, mental health, healing, but we are offered prison,” said Reggie Moore of the Medical College of Wisconsin when discussing young people with the potential to make mistakes.
Dozens more weighed in.
“The only way that human beings are cultivated, is when they learn how to respect themselves, they learn how to respect other,” one man said.
“As a community, yes, we want to get this work done collectively, but there’s a large part that starts with that mirror,” said another attendee.
Police data shown in the meeting notes 1,066 people were shot in Milwaukee last year. Sixteen percent of those people, just shy of 200 people, were killed.
“It would be better if he was here than gone,” said Marceon Ray who lost her brother-in-law, Charles Hardy, to gun violence in January.
He was one of six people killed inside a home at 21st and Wright. She only fears for an even deadlier summer.
“It’s to the point now where I want to enjoy summer and I know we’re not going to. I'm kind of scared to have my nieces and nephews outside,” Ray said.
In the meantime, OVP is hoping collaboration and outreach helps the city avoid the plague of violence some predict, despite how grim things may look now.
“This isn’t a time for pointing fingers. This is a time to figure out how do we stop this,” said Arnitta Holliman, director of OVP.
At the end of Tuesday's meeting, there was a call for people to engage the community in peacekeeping through the weekend. OVP said more than 200 people responded.
Before the meeting Tuesday, TMJ4 News spoke with several community advocates about what they wanted to discuss.
Andre Lee Ellis started a garden near 13th and Resevoir streets to help bring some peace and positivity to the community—especially young people who may find themselves on a tough path.
"I think we need to start hearing from the young people that are out there, young people that (are) telling us why they do what they do, and what would stop them from doing that, engaging them on that," Ellis said.
Ellis said he planned to share his ideas at the meeting.
Arnitta Holliman, the director of the city of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention, says they want to get out front with solutions to violence, especially in advance of Memorial Day Weekend.
"Historically, Memorial Day Weekend, the holiday weekend, has been one of the roughest weekends in terms of shootings," Holliman said.
Beyond this weekend, Holliman says community groups will continue to increase their outreach efforts.
"Main goal is that community leaders leave better, understanding what's happening to address the issue of violence and that they have some tangible ways to plug in and stay connected," Holliman said.
That's what David Sinclair was looking forward to hearing about. He's the coordinator for the CC Credible Messengers Program at West Care Wisconsin.
"I have been hearing things from my clients, a lot of people are scared. A lot of people are in hopeless spaces," Sinclair said.
He says he tries to offer solace by reminding them there are plenty of people working to improve Milwaukee and curb the violence.
Back at the garden, Ellis says the roots of violence are complicated. He says so many things need to be addressed—such as poverty, retaliation and mental health.
He stresses community leaders need to "go to where they are" to help the people who need to hear messages of anti violence most.
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