MILWAUKEE — Dozens of Milwaukee County, city and community leaders tuned in to a virtual meeting about violence prevention Tuesday afternoon for an urgent discussion to promote peace.
Milwaukee County Health and Human Services Deputy Director David Muhammad helped lead the meeting. He said about 100 activists, youth organizations, agencies, officials and young people attended.
"The young people that spoke today spoke about resources, spoke about services, they spoke in a hopeful way," Muhammad said. "They spoke a lot more about what the community needs, rather than what the community is suffering from, and they spoke with solutions."
The meeting was held partly in response to a recent spate of violence in Milwaukee, including several teenagers shot last week. 17-year-old Roy Thomas was shot and killed in Sherman Park last Thursday.
"These are not statistics and dots on a map," Muhammad said. "These are people, these are family members, these are young people in the community, and these are people whose lives matter."
According to Milwaukee police, there have been 46 homicides through April 26, 2021, compared to 45 at this time last year. MPD data also shows there have been 219 non-fatal shootings so far this year, compared to 123 in the same time frame in 2020.
Police recorded a record 189 homicides in the city in all of 2020, undoing a years-long downward trend.
"It does mean we can’t work as systems have in the past," Muhammad said. "It means we have to come out of buildings, and go into neighborhoods, and meet people where they are, and identify needs, and walk alongside them in the way they need us to."
Muhammad said his office has put a lot of work into housing stability, and they are working on a continuum of care to help keep young people out of the justice system. He also said people in the meeting said they want more healing work and mental health services.
Dawn Barnett, the co-executive director of the youth organization Running Rebels, echoes that kind of outreach work.
"Really taking an active interest in participation and saying, 'hey, maybe we need to pay attention to that, intervene, and really help to make sure there's a peaceful solution to this,' because in many of the incidents, it was involving people who just had conflict," Barnett said. " We have to handle our conflict in a different way."
Barnett points out violence prevention is not a new initiative in Milwaukee, but she said she did sense a renewed sense of urgency and hope in the meeting.
She wants the community to remember this message.
"Oftentimes we lose that perspective of all of the things that were prevented, or all the young people who are on the right track, all of those great decisions that are being made, because of the bad decisions of a few," Barnett said. "Don’t lose faith in that in the good work that is being done, because there is a lot of it in the city of Milwaukee."
Muhammad said the county will make "a significant announcement" in Sherman Park on May 3.