Dr Henry Rice said he was tired of firing bullets at children in Durham.
“I don’t want to do it anymore,” he told Durham City Council this month.
In December, six young people were killed by a cold on Monday morning. Rice, a pediatric surgeon at Duke University Hospital, cared for the four survivors.
“I was almost struck by how routine these events had become in our community, across the country and around the world,” he said. “We just aren’t doing enough.”
At the June 9 council meeting, Rice and the co-chairs of Durham’s Community Safety and Wellbeing Task Force asked city leaders to commit just over $100,000 to an initiative that would question survivors of gun violence.
The study could lead to the creation of a local office to serve survivors of violent crime, part of the task force’s mission to find solutions to violent crime that do not involve the police or the criminal justice system. .
Council members liked the idea, but many had concerns, primarily about the amount of work the study might create for the city’s new Community Safety Department. The department is already launching several pilot programs related to responding to 911 calls.
Some council members also want Duke and County Durham to contribute more to the project.
“All partners who have a pocket book need to put money into it, not just the city,” said Mayor Elaine O’Neal.
The co-chairs asked the board for approximately $112,000 to fund a public-private partnership that would also include $35,000 from Duke University’s Institute for Health Innovations.
The “Prescriptions for Repair” study would be administered by the Department of Community Safety and an “advisory circle” of volunteers including Duke Hospital’s violence intervention program director, Rice and others.
Listening to the stories of survivors would reframe the community response to gun violence to center the experience and needs of those harmed, the proposal states.
“We’re doing a good job at Duke Hospital stopping the bleeding and stitching up the holes and getting people out of the hospital,” Rice said. “We’re not doing a very good job of meeting their needs during their recovery period.”
What officials learn could shape a Durham Survivor Care Office, which should be part of the task force’s full recommendations next year.
Xavier Cason and Marcia Owen co-chair the working group. Owen was executive director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham for years and helped found Restorative Justice Durham, where she continues to play a volunteer leadership role.
When the task force was created, Mayor Steve Schewel told it to bring up urgent needs, Cason said.
Owen said the study would help fill a gap that has bothered her for years. Some local programs directly address the harm caused by gun violence, but no program “listens to what survivors identify as the needs created by the violence,” a report on the proposal says.
The program would connect 40 survivors of gun violence with 20 facilitators in structured confidential listening sessions. Participants would be paid $25 per hour.
Each participant would be offered at least eight hours of listening sessions, during which they would discuss what happened and “what needs to be done to make things as good as possible,” the proposal says.
The names of the participants would not appear in the report that would follow.
53% increase in gunshot victims
Over the past two years, Duke’s emergency room has seen a 53% increase in gunshot victims, according to the proposal.
The 2021 financial year brought 393 gunshot victims to hospital, compared to 280 in 2020 and 215 the previous year. Most were black men between the ages of 16 and 29.
The city’s request for funds comes halfway through the Community Safety and Wellbeing Task Force’s two-year mission to recommend public safety alternatives.
Durham Beyond Policing, a community coalition, lobbied for the task force instead of hiring more police in 2019.
In 2020, the city council earmarked $1 million for it, with Schewel calling the unprecedented funding for a task force in the city a “down payment.”
City Council will still need to approve any expenditure over $50,000.
So far, the task force has only spent $23,000 on translation and other needs, Owen said.
A change to Durham City Council
The 15-member task force was launched in 2021.
Board members Mark-Anthony Middleton and DeDreana Freeman opposed funding the task force in a then-familiar 4-2 board split.
Middleton and Freeman supported police alternatives. But they also backed a 2019 request by the police chief for 18 other officers which the majority of the council – including Jillian Johnson, Javiera Caballero and Charlie Reece – rejected.
This dynamic, however, changed after the November elections.
Voters elected O’Neal and now Councilman Leonardo Williams. Schewel did not seek re-election.
After the new council took office in December, Johnson’s interim mayoral status was transferred to Middleton.
Additionally, Reece resigned from the board in March and Monique Holsey-Hyman was appointed.
Comments from Durham City Council
At the June 9 council meeting, Johnson and Caballero supported the study and urged it to be reviewed and moved forward.
“I think it’s an incredible project. I think that’s exactly why we put money aside for this task force,” Caballero said.
The study is an important piece of the safety and well-being puzzle, Johnson said.
Holsey-Hyman cautioned against raising the expectations of study participants.
“They want solutions,” she said. “They just don’t want it to be [another study] in someone’s library.
Middleton expressed concern that the new department is taking on more responsibilities at this time.
“It’s a bandwidth issue,” he said, explaining that he didn’t want the task force to create programs that drained its budget or added work to other departments.
“I thought that millions [dollars] would serve the work of the working group”, would not change the organization organizational chart or structure of the city, he says.
This story was originally published June 21, 2022 9:59 a.m.