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Remarks of Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon at the Giffords Center for Violence Intervention Community Violence Intervention Conference, Los Angeles, CA

        Good morning! I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here today. This is such an impressive gathering of professionals, and you are doing some of the most innovative and important work in the country.

        My great thanks to the Giffords Center for hosting this conference, and to its amazing leader, Gabby Giffords, who is both inspiration and motivation for so many of us working to tackle gun violence in America. I also look forward to hearing shortly from Peter Ambler, who has grown this organization in such amazing ways over the years. And I want to give a special shout-out to Paul Carrillo for his leadership, for his positive and inclusive approach, and for putting together this landmark event.

        I also want to express my deep appreciation to each of you for the vital role that you play at this pivotal moment in our nation’s history, and for your unshakeable commitment to safety and equal justice for all.

        For many of you, I know that this work is deeply personal. I’ve been humbled to hear from so many leaders at the heart of the CVI movement, who are driven by their own proximity to violence and the justice system. Leaders who have grieved the loss of a loved one, and who are now fighting to prevent others from enduring that pain. I am so moved by your stories and by your commitment to help others. You are doing life-saving work under extremely challenging conditions.

        What is crystal clear to me and to my colleagues at the Department of Justice is that community violence intervention – effective intervention – is not possible without your perspective and insights. We simply can’t do this without the vision and leadership of people with lived experience. Your expertise, your credibility, your unrelenting drive and your relationships on the ground are invaluable and should guide us in this work.

        And they are. As I hope you can see, we too are trying to lead by example – to walk the walk – at the Department of Justice. We are so fortunate to have Eddie Bocanegra on Team DOJ, serving as Senior Advisor for Community Violence Intervention and guiding our efforts at the Office of Justice Programs. Many of you know Eddie from his groundbreaking violence reduction work at READI Chicago, a program that engages young men at the highest risk of shooting or being shot, and offers cognitive behavioral programming and a subsidized, supported job.

        READI Chicago is one of the few CVI models that has been rigorously evaluated through a randomized control trial by researchers at the University of Chicago. What they found is that READI participants – especially those referred from outreach partners – saw large reductions in arrests and victimizations. And every dollar invested returned roughly four dollars in societal benefits. These findings confirm what so many of us in this room know: that community violence intervention strategies are a smart investment and can save lives.

        We are so fortunate to benefit from Eddie’s experience and expertise, and his deep commitment to this work. He is a strong advocate for all of you, and I can assure you that we will continue to look to your example and to listen closely to the lessons you share to guide us in our decisions at the federal level

        So let me tell you a bit about some of those decisions to date. At the Office of Justice Programs, we are embracing a mission focused on advancing community safety, building community trust and strengthening the community’s role as co-producer of safety and justice. Empowering community stakeholders is vital to our mission. We are leaning in here, and this is a key pillar of our strategy to reduce gun violence.

        Of course, this comes into play in a major way in terms of how we are investing our community violence intervention resources. Last fall, thanks in part to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – supported by so many of you – we were able to award $100 million in grant funding to support CVI programs and research. This was the largest targeted federal investment in these strategies in history, and we were very clear and intentional in supporting CVI as a community-driven, community-centered, equity-focused effort. We are also leveraging these resources to build capacity to collect data, measure performance and expand our base of evidence so that we can ensure the sustainability of these programs over the long haul.

        In this first traunch of awards, we funded 47 site-based grantees in 24 states and territories. These include community-based nonprofits and city-led collaboratives that both seed new efforts and expand the reach of established interventions.

        One of the outstanding recipients of this funding, the Urban Peace Institute, is right here in Los Angeles – and here in this room. In fact, you heard from UPI’s leadership, Connie Rice and Fernando Rejon, during yesterday’s sessions. We’re proud to support UPI as they partner with violence intervention agencies, local government, community leaders and law enforcement to tackle violence in the city’s South Park neighborhood.

        With this funding, UPI is working with researchers at UC Davis – including Dr. Shani Buggs, another one of yesterday’s amazing panelists – to design, develop and assess tailored approaches to community violence. They’re also training and supporting peacemakers who are working around the clock to respond to shootings and prevent violent retaliations. We’re excited to see the how UPI will continue to effect positive change across L.A., and I look forward to being on site with them later today.

        Now, I’m excited to share that we’re also supporting three intermediary organizations that provide both funding and hands-on assistance to smaller CBOs who might otherwise face barriers to accessing federal support. These intermediaries are helping to build capacity among grassroots organizations and promote equitable access to federal resources in historically underserved communities. This is one concrete way we are living our mission: supporting community organizations to be co-producers of public safety.

        This is a new strategy for us and we’re so hopeful about its impact. While it’s just gearing up, these organizations are already working closely with community groups and local leaders. One of the intermediaries, the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership, is providing subgrants to three Black- and Latino-led grassroots organizations in Colorado communities experiencing high rates of violence. Eddie was able to join a recent training for these groups, and shared with us his excitement about how their work is building capacity to collect and deploy data to guide implementation.

        Another one of the intermediaries is the Local Initiatives Support Coalition, or LISC. LISC is supporting smaller CVI programs in five cities nationwide, including Memphis, Cincinnati, Richmond, Selma and Washington, D.C.

        The third intermediary is a non-profit based in Chicago called Metropolitan Family Services. I recently had a chance to visit this great program along with Eddie and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. It was great to be on the ground, and to hear more from their Metropolitan Peace Initiative, which runs a program called Communities Partnering 4 Peace. This is a network of hyper-local CBOs that help Chicago communities address gun violence by building a holistic ecosystem of violence intervention and prevention services.

        MFS made three subawards to community-based groups on Chicago’s South Side. We had a chance to hear firsthand from one of these groups, Project H.O.O.D., who shared the many ways in which MFS is helping them to grow and scale their services, so they’re better equipped to help many others.

        Our goal in working with these intermediaries is to extend the reach of federal support in communities that are too often overlooked and under-resourced, and ensure that we’re meeting their most pressing needs. Again, we know that we – collectively – can save lives and build safer communities by embracing community-based organizations as central partners in this work.

        On top of these capacity-building investments and the site-based programs, we’re also standing up a Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative Field Support Resource Center. This center will offer free training and technical assistance to any organization interested in exploring violence interventions within their own communities, whether they’re a grantee or not. So if you’re not a federal CVI grantee, this is a resource for you.

        We’re also providing tailored technical assistance to our CVI grantees through the superstars at the Community Based Public Safety Collective, along with their partners, many of whom you heard from at yesterday’s lunch session. And a big shout-out here to Aqeela Sherrills. Their theme – “Building the CVI Ecosystem” – drives home what we’re hoping to achieve here: Supporting a new and rich landscape for addressing violence that connects and empowers all stakeholders.

        And finally, in terms of last year’s CVI investments, we are supporting research and evaluation so that we can better understand what works to reduce violence and save lives. The READI Chicago study I mentioned earlier produced some incredibly encouraging findings. But here’s the thing: we have reason to believe that those same positive results could be found in some other programs too, but so few CVI programs have actually been evaluated by researchers. It's critical that we invest in building our evidence base so that we can show the value of these programs, learn what’s working and scale up effective models. I expect you’ll hear more along those lines in the impressive panel that follows next.

        So that’s what the first year of CVI resources supported. But we know that even more is needed to meet the moment. In fact, this year we’ll be making an additional $100 million available to support CVI programs, as well as related research, training and technical assistance. The solicitations have recently closed, applications are being reviewed and we’ll be excited to announce new CVI grants in September. These new investments will allow us to double the cohort of grantees, accelerate our collective momentum and further cement CVI as a lasting pillar of this country’s public safety infrastructure.

        I want to assure you that we will continue to listen and learn from you as this initiative grows and evolves. We want to be sure we’re building on the hard lessons you’ve learned from your work over the years – in some cases, over decades. Again, we’ve already been meeting with CVI leaders in cities around the country.

        For example, last September, I had the privilege of meeting with an impressive group of young men in Baltimore who were part of an outstanding CVI program called Roca, a program that’s represented in the room today. These young men opened up about their experiences, and they told remarkable, and sobering, stories about their own encounters with violence.

        They offered invaluable insights – about the profound effects of violence and what it takes to live with and overcome the experience of trauma – and they shared what Roca means to them. Roca is their safe space – their family. Roca believed in their potential, even before they believed in themselves, and gave them the courage to embrace a brighter future, not just for themselves, but for their families and for their community.

        I know there are people and programs in each of your cities that offer invaluable lessons in resolve and resiliency that we need more people to hear – and we need to apply those lessons in every community challenged by violence.

        I want to make one final point before closing, and I’ll frame it as a challenge. We all understand that community violence is a complex problem that calls for comprehensive, multi-faceted, jurisdiction-wide, evidence-based and community-oriented solutions. That is a lot to ask for, I know. And community-based organizations should not – and cannot – be responsible for all of that.

        You have an integral, central role, to be sure. And as I’ve discussed, our CVI investment strategy has been, and will be, squarely focused on building the community infrastructure that is so vitally needed and required.

        At the same time, broader city coalitions, including police and other justice system stakeholders, have an important role to play here too. They can be indispensable allies and critical partners in the work of community violence intervention, and many of you are proving that out in your home jurisdictions. We know there are strong programs out there where CVI community groups, the city and the police are working hand in hand and have made outstanding progress. You have shared your stories with us, and those stories reinforce our commitment to raising a bigger tent.

        And so here’s the challenge:

        How can all of us in this room learn from and build upon those successful partnerships, to identify new opportunities for communities and police to come together and leverage each other’s complementary strengths? I want to challenge every one of you to think about the vital role you play within the larger public safety ecosystem in your jurisdiction, and to be open to partnering with stakeholders across the spectrum and to leveraging their strengths and resources as a complement to your own.

        I know this is a complicated ask, but luckily no one has to go it alone. We know, because you have told us, that no one group, no single institution, can solve the problem of gun violence. But we also know – because you’ve shown us – that the problem is within our collective power to solve.

        I look around this room and I see a community of inspiring leaders from around the world, united by a shared vision for a safer future. I see a brain trust with an opportunity to shape our approach to community safety for generations to come. You are public safety pioneers!

        And I have the utmost confidence that together, we can bridge long-standing divides, build the bonds of trust and create a true, shared safety. Our communities – especially those hardest hit by violence – deserve that effort from all of us.

        I’m very encouraged by the work being done across the country – innovative, groundbreaking, and life-saving work being led by so many people in this room. I am humbled and honored to learn from you and to carry your voices back to the Department of Justice.

        Rest assured that we are with you in this work, we know you are making a difference and we are grateful for everything you do to build safe, healthy and vibrant communities.

Thank you.


Date Published: June 27, 2023