Dayton gun violence initiative from NAACP, police focuses on youth strategies

Mayor Mims, others want leaders, families to get teens involved in activities early to avoid ‘culture of violence.’

The Dayton Unit NAACP joined with local law enforcement officials and community organizers Wednesday to promote a collaborative “Gun Violence Reduction 2023 and Beyond” initiative for the region.

Dayton Unit NAACP President Dr. Derrick Foward shared statistics from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and both Trotwood and Dayton police departments, showing those departments investigated a total of 39 homicides in 2022 — four within the sheriff’s jurisdiction, four in Trotwood, and 31 in the city of Dayton.

“We would like to see a city that’s thriving economically. We cannot have (that) when we have (instances) like a peaceful holiday parade where someone discharges a firearm; now we have chaos,” Foward said, referring to the November Dayton Holiday Festival, which was halted just minutes after beginning due to the firing of a gun nearby.

Sheriff Rob Streck, Mayor Jeffrey Mims, Dayton Police Chief Karan Afzal and Trotwood Police Chief Erik Wilson joined leaders of the Dayton NAACP and the Just Us, For Us, By Us initiative, The group shared a variety of strategies and goals in the ongoing effort to combat gun violence in the region.

A large part of Wednesday’s conference focused on deterring youth from participating in a culture of violence.

“They represent 20% of our population, but they represent 100% of our future,” Mims said. “It’s not always the absence of activities, but how we steer and move more and more of our young people into these activities that are designed specifically to give (them) an opportunity for a better quality of life through recreation.”

Foward highlighted the impact of gun violence on the community and the economy, but also on families.

Among the speakers at Wednesday’s event was Michelle Cooper, the mother of a Beavercreek man who was killed in January while working as a Lyft driver in Dayton.

Authorities say Brandon Cooper, 35, was summoned via the Lyft app around 2 a.m. Jan. 26 to Ferguson Avenue in Dayton, where four teenagers attempted to rob him of his vehicle and he ultimately was shot and killed.

“Brandon was my only son; my only child, and his loss is palpable. It has devastated our family,” Cooper said. “For him to go out to go to work, only to never come back. It’s taken everything from us.”

Mims highlighted the importance of creating more opportunities for success for local teens through a balance of play and mentorship.

“If you’re coming to school everyday, involved in a variety of activities … all of these activities give you a different set of advisers, coaches, instructors, and a different set of instruction and rules to follow,” he said. “When you get into a pattern of following those rules, you’re in a better position to respond to authority and adult figures.”

Foward listed the names of organizations throughout the community which foster making connections with children and young adults by providing activities and recreational outlets, including NAACP and Dayton youth councils, Dayton Urban Young Life, Dayton Metro Library, Black Brothers and Black Sisters Involvement, and more.

“We can’t make excuses and say there’s nothing for them to do. Can we enhance it? Yes, we can,” Foward said, citing the city of Dayton’s recent approval of a 2023 budget that includes $1 million to go toward youth development.

Along with community connections, Mattie White, Dayton Unit NAACP vice president, said there’s also a need to foster connections within family units. White noted there are mental health services available through the sheriff’s office, as well as family and community engagement opportunities at local churches.

“If every home promotes peace, then there will be peace within the community, in our churches, in our business interactions, and in our interactions with law enforcement,” she said. “If there’s a home that’s struggling with that, we want to encourage families to seek out services.”

Foward said the Dayton Unit NAACP supports law enforcement in its effort to inhibit continued gun violence.

“When it comes to keeping our community safe … to ensuring that individuals can live, work and go to school, we’re going to support our law enforcement officers,” Foward said.

Looking to the future, Foward said the collaboration with law enforcement and local organizations will continue, and that more anti-violence strategies are in the works.

“We will continue to work with other community-based organizations that actually have boots on the ground inside of these communities,” he said. “We’re also talking about (implementing) some things that we’re not yet ready to discuss at the present time.”

Mid-year 2022 statistics showed overall crime in the city of Dayton was down 1%, with the most significant Part I violent offenses down 10%, compared to the previous year. Police at the time said some of their crime-prevention strategies were helping to get some very dangerous people off the streets.

Assistant Chief Lt. Col. Eric Henderson said this summer that a small number of people were responsible for a sizable share of gun violence and violent attacks and assaults in the city, with police heavily focused on tracking those individuals down and getting them into custody.

“We’ve had some targeted operations, like gun-reduction initiatives, where we focused on areas that are hotspots, where we know these crimes are occurring,” Henderson said this summer.

Last year, 40 Dayton officers took part in a gun reduction initiative that led to 191 felony arrests and the recovery of more than 100 firearms.

The Dayton department was awarded nearly $4.6 million in federal COVID rescue funds by the state of Ohio this fall to help hire about 26 Dayton police officers.

“Agencies receiving funding through the Ohio Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program needed to provide evidence that the pandemic impacted their efforts to combat violent crime that surged during the pandemic,” Crow said.

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