Grim group develops plans to curb gun violence after latest spate of shootings

Grim group develops plans to curb gun violence after latest spate of shootings

CHAMPAIGN — A grim, serious group met Thursday night to hash out methods for ending local gun violence, following two weekends that each saw two shootings in Champaign.

The meeting at the Champaign Public Library's Douglass branch drew a crowd large enough to pack the room. Among the attendees were police chiefs, social-service providers, local advocacy groups and city representatives.

It didn't take long to address the recent spate of local shootings, which Champaign police say may or may not be connected to each other. The gunfire occurred on Friday evenings — June 15 and 22.

Also, the amount of combined Champaign-Urbana shootings is higher so far this year compared with the same period last year.

Lists of local concerns, community strengths and potential action plans were generated by those meeting Thursday — with several attendees stressing that future action needs consistent funding and attention. Some expressed frustration over attending similar meetings in the past but not achieving change.

"If we work together, we are a great community," said Donte Lotts, a member of the CU Fresh Start initiative to curb gun violence. "But if we work in our silos and stay disconnected ... we're gonna leave here and go to our houses and have no strategy."

In the vein of working together, some attendees said that the various local groups providing social services should combine their operations. That way, they said, people working to better the community wouldn't spend time competing with each other for resources or volunteers.

Several audience members also said that pastors and members of local churches need to address gun violence more.

"To have 36 African-American churches on this side of town and have this kind of issue is a problem," said Berean Covenant Church Pastor Willie Comer.

And another repeated idea was helping parents and their kids learn how to be more empathetic and caring, in addition to getting them mental health treatment. Champaign resident Mary Smith, whose son Rashidi Overstreet was killed four years ago, highlighted that point.

"These sons have no remorse — moms need to hug them and let them know that they love, need and want them," Smith said. "We need to give moms more support and not wait until sons are grown to try to help them."

Among the other action plans pitched by the group:

— Taking stock of local social services programs and making efforts to avoid duplicating them.

— Having people with a gun-violence history persuade others to avoid the activity, as opposed to people who don't come from that background.

— Encouraging the University of Illinois to provide awards or incentives to employees who integrate themselves and their work in areas outside of campus.

— Advocating for a higher minimum wage that can support a family.

— Getting youth more involved with the effort and asking for their ideas.

— Making room in schools for social service programs to be provided during school time.

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