By Brianna Andrews and Ariel Schiller, News4Jax

As Jacksonville police investigated four weekend shootings, including one that was deadly, a local group marked a new push to address gun violence in Jacksonville.

ICARE, the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, hosted a community discussion Monday, hoping to find solutions.

“We are here not as confrontation with the sheriff or confrontation with city officials, we are here to work together,” said Victor Cole, pastor of Historic Mt. Zion AME Church.

Community members came to the Christ the King Catholic Church’s Shirley David Hall on Arlington Road — less than a mile from the scene of a deadly shooting on Sunday.

Sheriff T.K. Waters was invited to the meeting but he wasn’t in attendance. It’s not clear why he didn’t show, but Cole hopes Waters will find a way to be involved with the organization.

“We need him to show up and just sit down at the table and just listen to what we have to say, listen to what ICARE has to say and be a part of the conversation,” Cole said.

A.J. Jordan with the MAD DADS also attended the event and detailed some of his solutions to combat the violence.

“We have to go where they are sometimes. The people that we need to be reaching tonight is not going to be in this building. So MAD DADS go where they’re at. Sometimes you have to talk to the kids on the corner, sometimes you have to talk to them in the grocery store. So I believe in hitting the streets, boots on the ground, and going where they’re at,” Jordan said.

ICARE says Jacksonville has the 23rd highest murder rate out of the 75 largest cities in the U.S.

According to News4JAX records, 127 people were murdered in Jacksonville in 2023.

Nearly 94% of those killed were Black men and boys, and more than half of the victims were under the age of 30. Almost all of the murders involved shootings.

Jordan said those statistics are concerning.

“To see so many young Black men and young Black boys die… I’m an African American man with African American sons, so it hits me hard, and I want to see everybody live and have a productive life,” Jordan said.

Jean Francis, with Moms Demand Action, said the city continues to lead the state in gun violence.

“We haven’t really seen a huge decline. It’s been consistent for many many years. Certainly, we are concerned with children but also with the whole population,” she said.

The Pew Research Center reported that gun deaths for U.S. children increased by 50% between 2019 and 2021. Francis spoke about how firearm deaths in children have increased by 87% over the past ten years.

As a former pediatric nurse, Francis said those numbers are concerning.

“I helped form a pediatric trauma program for a major city in Texas, and I can remember two incidents of gun violence that we saw in our emergency room. I only retired eight years ago and now it’s the leading cause of death for children and teens,” she said.

Councilman Rahman Johnson said it’s important to support the organizations that already exist in the community.

“I am going to announce later this week the organizations that are in the community for safety and justice and crime reduction commission. They’re already doing the work, so instead of creating new organizations… let’s support them,” Johnson said.

The yearly Nehemiah Assembly, that ICARE hosts, will take place on April 15th at the Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church on Interstate Center Drive.

View the original story here.