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Lexington activist group calls for more violence prevention from city

An activist group is continuing to push for the city of Lexington to implement a strategy that they say would curtail violence in the city.
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 6:19 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - An activist group is continuing to push for the city of Lexington to implement a strategy that they say would curtail violence in the city.

BUILD called a press conference Tuesday evening and made an address that voiced frustration that the strategy hasn’t been adopted, while the city introduces security cameras around the city.

BUILD said a 2019 analysis by the National Network for Safe Community recommended the city implement a Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy.

Members of the group said they have sent letters to the mayor’s office calling for action.

“I am asking and I am demanding that you enter a partnership with them so we can finally get a handle on the violence,” said Sherry Warsh with BUILD.

Community activists said Lexington leaders are not doing enough for violence prevention.

“It is frustrating when it can be stopped. Not saying it can go to 0%, but if we can cut it in half,” said Cheryl Birch with BUILD.

It’s a personal mission for Birch. In 2009, her son Jermaine was shot and killed.

“Me and my family still live this every day, every time I hear of a homicide I know exactly what that mother and father is going through,” Birch said.

Before the meeting, WKYT’s Chad Hedrick spoke with Mayor Linda Gorton about BUILD’s push for the group violence intervention strategy.

“We are focused on Lexington-specific solutions to violent crime,” Mayor Gorton said.

Mayor Gorton also sent the following letter to BUILD on Tuesday explaining why the city hasn’t adopted the strategy:

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.

She said conversations with outreach groups, faith leaders, and the ACLU and NAACP all expressed concerns about the targeting aspect of the GVI strategy. She added when meeting with the National Network for Safe Community, they said in the fall that they were at a loss to explain why it wasn’t working in some cities.

“We all know that our neighborhoods need to be safe. And the foundation of a really great city is public safety, because the rest builds on that,” Mayor Gorton said.

“I want it to be where I can walk, I want it to be where my great-grandkids can play in the park and not have to go in the house and shut the door to feel safe,” Birch said.

The group is also very critical of the city’s plan to install Flock security cameras across Lexington. The cameras read license plates, and police say can be useful tracking down cars believed to be associated with violent crimes or even missing person cases.

“We used actual violent crime that was reported to us as the basis of these locations,” Assistant Police Chief Eric Lowe said.

However, BUILD said these would unfairly target minority communities.

“Since there are more police officers in Black neighborhoods, there will be more crime data in black neighborhoods. Communities that are already over policed, will be under constant surveillance by the city,” First African Baptist Church pastor Nathl Moore said.

Police said they will not be releasing the locations of these cameras simply for security reasons. They don’t want to worry about them being vandalized or help criminals map out where they are.

Assistant Chief Lowe said the department did consult with the ACLU and NAACP about the locations. Installation will begin next month.

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