With more than 80 shots fired in Madison since the beginning of the year, the Madison Police Department has seen a recent increase in gang-affiliated shootings since August.
But while gang-affiliated shootings are on the rise, MPD Chief Mike Koval said MPD isn’t ready to say the gun violence is a manifestation of gangs fighting other gangs.
“[A perpetuator] may be part of a gang, wear gang symbols or be an alum of a gang,” Koval said. “So, there is gang ancestry throughout the course of many of these shootings, but that’s not to suggest that it’s ‘gang against gang.’”
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Some residents are fearful to step forward as witnesses to these shootings, so it is difficult to move forward with the investigations, Koval said.
Since he first assumed office, Koval noted there has been an increased gang presence in Madison. Racial disparities in Dane County play a large role in this increase, he said.
“These shots fired or these crimes tend to be acts of desperation by desperate people owing to a variety of different factors,” Koval said.
According to the Race to Equity report, more than 54 percent of black Dane County residents live below the federal poverty line, this compares to 8.7 percent of their white counterparts.
Some of the factors, Koval said, include the proliferation of drugs in the community — specifically heroin and opiates. Koval also cited a lack of “conflict resolution skills” and ready access to guns as another reason for the reason shots are easily fired.
But pro-gun activists like Jeff Nass, former executive director and president at Wisconsin FORCE, said in the case of gang-related gun violence, the problem isn’t with the gun — it’s with the person pulling the trigger.
“We need to work on the people,” Nass said. “The firearm is not the problem.”
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Instead of placing the blame on the guns, Nass said it’s important law enforcement officials are able to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the crime. The guns are not what need to be kept off the streets, Nass said, it’s the bad people who don’t use them for good purposes.
While Nass said he believes prosecution is key when it comes to dealing with gang-related gun violence, the question as to how to keep those away from a life of crime still remains.
Koval said reducing the crime rate has nothing to with policing itself, but with making changes within the community.
To address this issue, a group of Madison residents recently joined together to form the Focused Interruption Coalition. The group worked together to create a 15 point plan to reduce gun violence, crime among youth and recidivism rates.
Ald. Matt Phair, District 20, one of the original co-authors of the proposed 15 point plan, said certain areas of the community don’t have enough resources to provide support. With a lack of a proper support system, some youth may become susceptible to a life of crime.
One part of the coalition’s plan is to to provide young, first-time, non-violent offenders the opportunity to connect with peer mentors who will provide life coaching skills to set them on the right path, member minister Caliph Muab’El said.
“It’s important to provide these kids someone they’re familiar with, someone they can relate to and who has walk in the path they walk through,” Muab’El said. “Instead of creating program after program that has no cultural references, this initiative directly addresses that.”
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Muab’El said he knows first hand how mentors can help.
After committing a gang-related shooting at the age of 15, Muab’El went to prison for 15 years. When he left prison at the age of 30, he naturally had some setbacks.
“I was pretty set back in something as simple as opening a checking account or paying rent,” Muab’El said.
A lot of those things, he said, he had to learn as an adult. It wasn’t an easy transition for him, but with the help of peers who went through similar experiences, he was able to move forward.
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Along with peer mentors, Phair said the Madison Peace Project is another priority of the coalition. The project invites young people to develop ideas to reduce youth gun violence and submit those proposals to the city of Madison in an effort to reduce gun violence.
“Even if gun violence is not rising, it’s not falling either — and thats not acceptable,” Phair said.
Koval said grassroots organizations like FIC are extremely viable and credible because the community members give them a great deal of “street power.” Their actions are done with, for and by the people, Koval added.
With the 15 point plan, Muab’El said he and members of the Focused Interruption Coalition are charged with the obligation to make sure anyone is able to come to the coalition for help.
“We know what works — we have the solution,” Muab’El said. “We’ve shown success in this particular strategy in rallying these politicians and funders to invest in that solution. We want to see a better community and a better Madison.”