Kristen Swilley walking with Jennifer Foster and Andria Y. Carter (WCPO Photo)

Kristen Swilley walking with Jennifer Foster and Andria Y. Carter (WCPO Photo)

The Cincinnati Herald and WCPO-Channel 9 News partnered to take an in-depth look at the impact of Gun Violence on City of Cincinnati. Here is our special report.

By Andria Y. Carter and Kristyn Hartman

CINCINNATI – Pastor Ennis Tait of New Beginnings of the Living God Church is not afraid to walk Cincinnati streets to help those affected by gun violence. For over the last six years he has been in every part of the city especially those that have had multitude of shootings. Residents on both the east and west side of the city has seen Pastor Tait at critical incident scenes, officiating funerals and talking to people in need.

Bathed in the Lord and his street cred, Tait is not afraid to help find a solution to end the growing gun violence in the City of Cincinnati. “I am amazed that we can track drugs and people, but we can’t track down how the guns are getting into our community,” Tait said.

Tait noted that the Cincinnati’s illegal gun trade is coming from someone and from somewhere preying on our young people. He believes it’s being done intentionally. Today’s young people use the guns for protection, a sense of power and a way to define themselves. That definition also includes knowing where the community guns are for those “just in case” moments that occur in neighborhoods where violence doesn’t have a day off.

If you ask experts, community activists, parents or police officers, what is the answer to stopping gun violence, you will get several different answers. All admit that it is a difficult question to answer, with no one direct solution.

Gun violence in Tait’s view will never be stopped, but you can reduce it.

Guns have played an integral part in American lives. As a child, children are given toy gun replicas to play with, youths use pretend guns in video games to right earthly wrongs, and as adults, guns are tools used for keeping the peace, protecting a country, used for recreational activities like Olympic sports or hunting. Guns also have a negative role used for criminal activity.

Throughout history weapons and then guns have played an important role in shaping who we are as a people and how we use them whether to protect, sport or fantasy. We have understood for generations protection means holding something in one’s hands is a form of a defense to keep safe what we love, possess or a means to an end safe.

In the City of Cincinnati, we are seeing these generational thoughts played out in a negative way on city streets in various neighborhoods. The city is on the verge of experiencing a record year of fatal shootings since 2006. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to exasperate neighborhood violence to a greater degree.

To date, the City of Cincinnati has reported 469 shooting cases with 82 being fatal. The top 10 neighborhoods that has suffered fatal shootings are: Avondale, 9; North Avondale, 8; West End, 8; Westwood,7; Over-the-Rhine, 6; East Price Hill, 5; Mt. Airy, 5; Spring Grove Village, 5; CUF, 3; and CBD/Riverfront, 2.

Photo of Cincinnati Police Eliot Issac (contributed)

“I think the impact and the anxiety created by a worldwide pandemic impacts everybody, it impacts not only the community at large, but police officers as well, especially on the front end of this. None of us knew what we were dealing with and how dangerous this was. And I think, and quite naturally, it caused some apprehension all around for officers, firefighters, you know we be in proximity to anyone on how certain we police through this. And, you know, we’re trying to find our way through it,” Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said.

Isaac said his officers are starting to see that there are number of things they can do to have an impact on the community. He noted there a number officers doing a tremendous job in the community. “I tell you what’s greatly missed was the opportunity to really engage the youth that we would normally do through course of the summer, you now try and overcome that. You know, I think those things are what build relationship and help relationships grow. A lot of people are under stress right now. A lot of people are under anxiety as we see the numbers start to increase again. What does that mean? What does that look like? So, really trying to figure that out is something we have to take to heart,” Isaac said.

In addition to the increase in gun violence, City of Cincinnati has experienced an increase in Part I crimes both violent and property crimes. To date, there have been 10,755 Part 1 crimes reported in Cincinnati. The top 10 neighborhoods for Part 1 crimes are: Westwood, Avondale, Walnut Hills, West Price Hill, East Price Hill, Roselawn, Over-the-Rhine, CBD/Riverfront, South Fairmount and Oakley.

“You know, we have challenges in a number of our neighborhoods. As we’ve seen, an increase in the violence, particularly in Over-the-Rhine around the Grant Park area. We had a homicide (occur) tragically last night in Avondale on Bernard Avenue. So there are number of places that we know and we have to really give that attention to those areas,” said Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac.

According to law enforcement, political and community experts, cities across America have experienced an increase in shootings and fatal shootings have been on an upswing. In some cities higher than others. Everyone has a solution, but few are willing to implement them. Many are willing to say that violence is known in all neighborhoods, but environmental or societal factors make the violence more public than in other neighborhoods.

Isaac noted that answering the question of why the city is experiencing more gun violence is difficult. “I think we see a lot of reasons. I think the root causes really lie in the social conditions of our neighborhoods, the things that we talk about education, housing, employment, those type of things that really cause lasting, generational problems in a community. I think gun violence is just basically a CIP, a symptom of a greater disease. And poverty is really that disease,” he said.

For Pastor Tait, gun violence is a public health and spiritual crisis. Bring in the people to treat the physical and mental trauma, but you also need community and family engagement to reduce gun violence. Mothers and grandmothers need a platform to speak plainly and loudly. “We grew up with strong parents, paid attention and be obedient. This generation and the last generation did not have the same covering. Parents are still being parented when they had their children. The root cause could be broken homes,” Tait said.

Isaac also acknowledged that root causes need to be addressed to change what happens in a number of Cincinnati neighborhoods. “You know, it’s kind of what I mentioned at the beginning is that we need to focus on some of the root causes. Now obviously, law enforcement has its place. But we are one piece of the pie… But until we really start to transform our neighborhoods from the inside out. And that means better housing, better education, better employment, opportunity, opportunity. Those are the things that will reduce crime long term and transform neighborhoods.”

He noted that neighborhoods affected by a number of environmental and societal issues are also subject of violent crime. Investment is the strongest ally in the fight against crime and violence in hard hit neighborhoods “Until we find a way to invest into those neighborhoods, and we have to invest on all levels, this is not just a law enforcement problem. One of the things that as part of our overall strategy is that adopting Highlands as a health crisis. And that is one of the arms of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence. That we approach this thing as a health crisis. And all of the things play into that and impact those neighborhoods. You know, we have communities that are basically under post traumatic stress. And it’s because of all those things because of the violence, because of the poverty and the effect of everything that you mention, that is impacting those neighborhoods, and the citizens of those neighborhoods,” Isaac said.

Jared Ward, youth advocate and coach, speaks to The Cincinnati Herald and WCPO 9 News about his work helping Avondale youth. WCPO photo

Mitch Morris, of Phoenix Project with Community Works, believes now is the time for people to stand up and get involved. It is no longer prudent to stand on the sidelines and accept what is happening in our neighborhoods. He is please that so many organizations like the Community Police Partnering Center are helping to reduce gun violence in the neighborhoods.

“So many people are in the fight now. People are tired. We need to try and stop this nonsense,” Morris said.

Throughout the City of Cincinnati Mitch Morris can be seen at critical incidents or neighborhoods after critical incidents helping people deal with their emotions, calm the anger and help people find a way to deal with the trauma gun violence has on the neighborhood.

He said it’s about sending hope. It’s about touching people and help them find a way to deal with what they are struggling with. Most of all, his work is about not using a gun. He noted though there are so many guns in the streets of Cincinnati.

For today’s youth, getting a gun is like getting their driver’s license. Now, it’s more important to show them a different way. Morris said showing our youth a different way, you have to be consistent. It is what the community needs to do. Being able to work together to help our youth and adults put down the guns, work together to stand up and say something.

Community engagement and community partners are import to the fight against gun violence, Isaac said. One such partner is the Community Police Partnering Center, a division of Urban League of Southwestern Ohio.

CPPC through is community outreach advocates and its community engagement specialists they are helping people see that they have hope, choices and opportunities to turn their lives around.

Dorothy Smoot, CPPC executive director, explained that the organization is about empowering people and empowering communities they have the answers within themselves to resolve community or safety issues without calling the police. We are about improving the quality of life and helping people who believe they don’t have a voice, help them see they do have a voice.

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