By Mike Valente, LEX 18
LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — About two months after Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton delivered her ‘State of the City’ address, a local group of faith leaders held its own address, challenging Mayor Gorton to do more to curb violence in the city.
“These killings happen all over town,” one faith leader said, speaking into a microphone in front of a crowd gathered outside Lexington City Hall. “No part of our city is immune.”
The group, called B.U.I.L.D. (Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct-Action), has demanded Mayor Gorton implement the Group Violence Intervention strategy, which has been endorsed by the National Network for Safe Communities.
Some cities, including Philadelphia, have recently announced the implementation of the strategy.
Mayor Gorton has resisted calls to implement the strategy. In a letter addressed to B.U.I.L.D. Tuesday, she expanded on her thinking.
She explained that after meeting with Police Chief Lawrence Weathers and Devine Carama, the director of One Lexington, among other parties, she developed reservations about implementing GVI.
“All expressed serious concerns about the targeting aspect of GVI,” Mayor Gorton wrote. “And the serious damage it could do to the relationship among government/law enforcement and communities of color.”
During Tuesday night’s B.U.I.L.D. event, several speakers scrutinized that position.
“One of the more recent excuses was she was worried it would target Black men,” said Rev. Dr. Nathl Moore, who is Black. “Even though members of the Black community are the ones asking her to implement GVI.”
Mayor Gorton has also repeatedly noted she has already implemented five of six recommendations from B.U.I.L.D., but members of the group don’t believe that is enough.
“My illustration of that is like baking a cake,” said Cheryl Birch, who lost her son to gun violence in 2009. “If it calls for three eggs, a cup of water, and a stick of butter and you leave one out, the cake’s not going to come out right.”
Mayor Linda Gorton’s letter to B.U.I.L.D.:
Dear Members of BUILD,
On March 8, 2022, I received via email a press release from B.U.I.L.D. demanding that I implement GVI in Lexington, KY. Out of respect for the church members who are part of B.U.I.L.D., many of whom I know, I am choosing to reply by addressing facts and the administration’s actions.
Group Violence Intervention (GVI) – As the elected official ultimately responsible for the decision to implement this or not, I take violent crime very seriously. I rely heavily on the experts who work in this environment. I have consulted with Police Chief Lawrence Weathers, law enforcement, the Director of One Lexington, street outreach workers, community activists, faith leaders, the ACLU, NAACP, and the Human Rights Commission. All expressed serious concerns about the targeting aspect of GVI, and the serious damage it could do to the relationship among government/law enforcement and communities of color.
In an effort to determine whether GVI is a tool that could be successful in Lexington, last year my administration researched some cities that use GVI to learn about whether their data shows a decrease in homicides. When we met with National Network for Safe Community (NNSC) representatives, they stated in a BUILD meeting in Fall 2021 that they were at a loss to explain why GVI wasn’t working in some cities.
The above two factors combined to make it clear that GVI is not the program Lexington should emphasize right now. There are many positive components of GVI that are similar to other violence prevention and intervention programs that I fully support, and have ensured that our team prioritizes.
There are many organizations that promote programs as the best models for addressing violence. GVI is one of them, and shares many similarities with other programs.
Numerous social and economic factors play a part in violence. Along with proactive, community-focused policing, we also focus on the upstream, root causes of violence. For example, every day we work to address affordable housing, homelessness, strengthening our workforce, youth programming, job training, substance use disorders, and rental assistance, just to name a few. This represents a significant increase in funding for our community violence intervention program.
Flock Cameras: My administration has consulted with the ACLU, Human Rights Commission and NAACP several times regarding the use of Flock cameras. They shared their concerns, agreed that these concerns were addressed in the policy outlined by the Lexington Police Department, and will continue to monitor the implementation and reach out if they have any issues. Flock looks at crime analysis data across the board to recommend placement of its cameras. For BUILD to make a statement about the mayor installing cameras in already “over-policed communities” without even knowing where the cameras are is problematic.
I will continue to work aggressively with our community partners to address homicides in our community. We know that overall the larger category of violent crime in Lexington decreased 4% when you compare 2020 to 2021. We will not let up on our efforts to support people to choose a path of non-violence.
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