Addressing gun violence in Miami-Dade County 

By former Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay

Despite historically low crime rates, persistent gun violence continues to disproportionately affect several neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County. Gun violence highlights many of the inequities in our County. Key stakeholders including Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez have been working together with Miami-Dade County, City of Miami, and City of Miami Gardens to more directly address the problem of senseless gun violence.

Miami-Dade's anti-gun violence stakeholders are preparing for the implementation of the Group Violence Intervention “GVI” program recently adopted and funded by the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners. GVI was featured at a recent training conference in New York City for the National Network for Safe Communities as an effective evidence based anti-gun violence initiative.

GVI has a national proven track record in reducing gun violence and deaths by getting the community involved in taking ownership of the problem and becoming part of the solution. It is based on the “Operation Ceasefire” program first utilized in Boston in the 1990s.

The program involves a “boots on the ground” approach that targets high-crime areas with positive male role models and peacemakers, peace hubs, and warnings about the consequences of further violence, and a genuine offer of help and employment assistance for those who want it.

To better prepare for the rollout, Public Defender Martinez and his team attended the National Network for Safe Communities Training Conference on the emerging science of violence prevention, evidence-based, lifesaving violence reduction strategies. Attendees learned first-hand about national best practices to reduce gun violence.

Conference take homes:

1. There is no such thing as a “dangerous” community. Research shows violence is most commonly concentrated amongst a tiny number of exceptionally vulnerable people. It is key to identify those most likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence, setting the stage for a range of focused and effective interventions.

2. “Dangerous” communities have experienced extraordinary historical and recent harm, reject violence, and respect the law, and do most of the work of creating public safety.

3. Best practices for law enforcement in violence prevention should be as effective and as minimal as possible. Effective national models replace enforcement with deterrence and reduce the footprint of what enforcement is necessary.

4. Interrupting and undercutting the street dynamic is an important. Group processes and norms such as vendettas and retaliation drive violence.

5. Most of the work of violence prevention is done by communities themselves. Communities are developing innovative and powerful strategies to enhance their own role and effectiveness.

We all recognize how fortunate we are on Key Biscayne. We are insulated from the everyday gun violence that too frequently kills kids in a cluster of neighborhoods a few miles from us in our County. The reality is that everyday gun violence is as insidious as the horrific mass killings that dominate the media and our consciousness.

It is critical to educate ourselves on the issues and the best, evidence-based solutions to address everyday gun violence. As residents of this County, it is up to us to engage on this public health problem and act to stop more preventable deaths from occurring.