Champaign Community Coalition fighting gun violence with forums

Champaign Community Coalition fighting gun violence with forums

CHAMPAIGN — After months of preparation, the Champaign Community Coalition announced Wednesday it will start a pilot program to hold neighborhood forums no more than 36 hours after a shooting.

Coalition facilitator Tracy Parsons told a packed house at the Champaign Public Library that they should "not allow a takeover" of the Countrybrook apartment complex where police said a shooting took place early Saturday morning. Police Chief Anthony Cobb called the shooting "very concerning," as the multiple bullet shells found at the scene were the result of a "gun battle."

Coalition members in the community violence response team are currently looking for partners to host the forum in specific locations after a violent event.

After an incident of gun violence, said response team leader Karen Simms, neighbors and community members want to know they are safe, that there is information available and that they can quickly find resources.

"One of the things we know can reduce the impact of gun-violence events is if we get in early," Simms said. "People are less likely to have mental-health complications if that's the case, and they'll be able to have spaces to come together."

These "safe spaces," Simms added, need to be able to accommodate about 100 people and must already be perceived as a safe space within the community. Preston James, a team member and Urbana community-relations specialist, said the team will also identify speakers to deliver targeted messaging around safety, mental-health resources and crisis response.

"We'll put together a one-page sheet with all the resources and services that the coalition can provide," James said. "We need to get out what kinds of supports we have available."

The coalition hopes to create a core group of volunteers to engage in the forums and help out, but Kristin Walters, team member and reporter with Illinois Public Media, said it's of the utmost importance to get the message out to have mass involvement.

"We have a structure and design so that once people know of a shooting, they can expect these forums to happen quickly afterward," Walters said. "We need as many people as possible to know about these meetings."

Walters added that something like this hasn't been done in other communities around the state. It's brand new, she said, but it could be easily replicated elsewhere if the coalition does a good job with the pilot.

Anyone interested in hosting forums no more than 36 hours after an incident of violence is asked to attend an informational meeting set for 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. May 20 at the Champaign Public Library.

Parsons also announced that this year's Walk as One event, which promotes peace and community resiliency, is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15 at Salem Baptist Church in Champaign. This will be a door-knocking initiative to hand out information to the north end neighborhood about the city's summer community programs and crisis-response efforts for gun violence.

And after three years at the library, the coalition will again move its meetings. The regular gatherings will now take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Holiday Inn, 101 Trade Center Drive, C.