By: WBIR Staff, María Marta Guzmán

The Knoxville Police Department reported 16 dead from shootings so far this year, a decrease from 27 at around the same time last year. While city leaders are working to prevent gun violence from claiming more lives, a group of more than 20 congregations are working to address it themselves.

On Wednesday, faith leaders gathered at St. James Episcopal Church to discuss gun violence and how to best prevent it. They united to form Justice Knox — a group focused on finding community-first solutions to meet neighbors’ needs.

“Gun violence is a big problem in Knoxville, as it is in many cities around the country,” said Rev. John Mark Wiggers with St. James Episcopal Church, and a member of Justice Knox. “We joined together with other congregations to do justice, because we can’t make a difference on our own.”

Lakenya Middlebrooks, the Knoxville Director of Community Safety, went to the event and discussed steps the city is taking to prevent gun violence. Some members of the congregation went to their churches saying they could hear gunshots in their neighborhoods.

“Some of our youth had a friend from camp who was actually shot and injured,” said Rev. Wiggers. “Concerns really came to the forefront. And so, there was fear and anxiety and some great concern about the whole community facing this problem.”

The city is working directly with people at risk of violence, trying to break cycles of violence that can trap individuals and families. Leaders are also trying to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and neighbors and invest in communities while also de-escalating violence in real-time.

They are also collecting data about the issue. According to the Knoxville Gun Violence Problem Analysis, the majority of gun violence incidents are related to personal disputes. Both victims and suspects in gun violence cases are usually between 18 years old and 34 years old.

“It’s really thinking about people, places and behavior, and what interventions and tools and resources — we have to address all of those things simultaneously,” said Middlebrooks. “It’s a lot of young-to-middle adults who are participating in violence. And, a lot of times we tend to think that it’s only really young people, and that’s just not the case.”

The Office of Community Safety said the city is aiming to cut the number of fatal and non-fatal shootings by 10% each year, starting this year.

View the original story here.