Lawmakers in the state’s Democratically-controlled chambers have introduced a bill that would allow non-profit violence interruption groups to access a federally-funded resource to help expand its programming across New York City.
The bill sponsored by Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie would allow these programs, including the Cure Violence program—where reformed gang members are hired to defuse tensions between gangs before violence erupts—to access a portion of the federally-allocated funds through the state Office of Victims Services. The office administers the fund that was created following the passage of the 1984 Victims of Crime Act by Congress. The funding sources—made available those who’ve been the victims of a crime, which include victims under the age of 18 or those of a terror attack in New York—are often derived from fines, penalties, or donations and doled out to states yearly. In 2019, the state’s federal allocation for the fund was $133 million, according to the Office of the Inspector General.
The bill would set aside either 10% or $10 million of those funds, whichever is greater, for anti-gun groups such as the Cure Violence program. They would have to apply for these monies in the form of a grant, serving as another revenue source for these programs often left scrounging for funding. Such an expansion into this currently untapped resource would benefit Camara Jackson, executive director of Elite Learners, a Cure Violence group in Brooklyn operating within the 67th Precinct. On top of its credible messenger program, the group also offers dance, drama, and STEM classes.
“[This] means that more seniors will feel comfortable outside, more youth will have role models,” Jackson said of the bill. “And [there]’ll be less violence happening in the district. So I would use it directly for staffing, which would grow the organization and make the community safer.”
So far, Myrie’s bill has garnered support from his senate colleagues, including Jamaal Bailey, Andrew Gounardes, Robert Jackson, Jessica Ramos, and Gustavo Rivera. A bill equivalent was introduced in the Assembly this past week. With Democrats having obtained a supermajority in Albany, and the cash-strapped state not having to allocate any more money to it, Myrie hopes the bill will easily be included in this year’s budget that is expected to pass in April.
“In a challenging budget environment, our bill doesn’t take away state money from other vital services,” Myrie said in a statement. “It simply directs the state to use money it already receives from the federal government to address the gun violence epidemic in communities like the ones I represent.”
Myrie added that the money would help create a “predictable funding stream” for these groups.
Cure Violence programs in New York City have become a staple in the de Blasio administration over the years, receiving $34 million in allocations while expanding into 17 precincts in high-crime neighborhoods. A study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2020 found that the drop in shootings over the years coincided with increased use of Cure Violence programs across the city. The state’s bill sponsors find that the funding resources for anti-violence program can fluctuate yearly, limiting a program’s “ability to plan for long-term solutions while forcing them to compete with each other for shrinking resources,” according to the bill’s Senate version.
A 2019 report by Everytown Research, a policy think tank group, found that if the state dedicated 10% of its crime victims fund to Cure Violence programs there would be $13.2 million of available money.
For Jackson, the results have also proven fruitful, pointing to one section of Crown Heights as an example of progress.
“Hawthorne [Avenue] is an area in Crown Heights that we’ve been working on in decreasing the gun violence, and we’re over 150 days with no gun violence,” Jackson said. “It takes funding, it takes money, it takes resources to do that work.”
Such work, according to Jackson, requires resources to pay mediators a decent salary with benefits.
Though de Blasio is a major supporter of the Cure Violence approach, it hasn’t gained much traction with Pat Lynch, president of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association. At a recent shooting of an officer in the Bronx, Lynch said pouring millions of dollars into the approach isn’t “gonna work.”
“What we need to do is put cops on the street doing the job we know how to do, train them, hire them, put them on the street, allow them to do the job, and then prosecute the cases when we bring them in,” said at the news conference.
Rebecca Fischer, executive director New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, an advocacy group for anti-violence programs, noted that officers may not always be the first best option when resolving disputes.
“That is a role that needs to be reserved for someone who has trust within the community,” Fischer said. “And the police have not been able to necessarily effectively establish that trust, some have. But law enforcement, as a general matter, we’ve seen do not necessarily have trust within communities that are most impacted by gun violence. And that is why community-based intervention groups are a necessary piece of of solving this problem.”
The bill is currently being reviewed by the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee.