Al Heggins, former Mayor of Salisbury, offers insight into the responsibilities of county and municipal government and the part we, the people, can play. Al provides details and reminds us, “Salisbury’s gun violence problem isn’t about ‘either/or’; it is about ‘both/and’ and ‘all of the above.’ There is no one panacea, but we have tools at our fingertips.”

Headlines scream Salisbury’s local circumstances:

“One person dead after Christmas night shooting in Salisbury”

“Innocent bystanders, 13 and 14-year-old boys shot at Catawba College”

“Early morning shooting injures one in Salisbury”

“Man shot and killed in parking lot near Walmart”

“One dead, off-duty firefighter injured after shooting on Sunset Drive”

Headlines persist while people continue to be injured and die from the gun violence in Salisbury, NC; the city I and 33,726 others call home. The place where many retire, work, play and raise families. As parents and grandparents, my husband Isaac and I are heartbroken and mourn with families who are forever traumatized and irreparably harmed due to losing a loved one to gun violence.

Sending our deepest condolences, mouthing heartfelt sympathies and releasing balloons is not enough. Everyday people can grab the steering wheel and turn the curve away from this dismal milieu of death producing gun violence. Our community must be accountable and take responsibility for each other. We must also demand concrete interventions from our County and City.

Cities and counties have different purposes and provide different services. Counties have a longer list of mandated services than cities by state law. One important mandate for a county is providing public health. 

On the other hand, what municipalities are required to do is limited. Although, municipalities can provide needs based on local circumstances.

Clearly, our local circumstances are dire. Salisbury’s persisting public health emergency is the gun violence — resulting in death, injury and fear. Grabbing the steering wheel takes us down the road to two life changing and lifesaving resources; one resource is Turn the Curve Thinking, which is free. The other resource is Cure Violence, which has a cost dramatically lower than death.

Turning the Curve Thinking helps communities 1 – use data to forecast where we’ll end up if nothing changes; 2 – analyze the data backstory; 3 – bring together existing and new partners to improve outcomes; 4 – pull forward what works to help communities turn the curve; 5 – develop and implement a comprehensive action plan.

Cure Violence (CV) takes a broad community approach to preventing and reducing gang violence. CV categorizes violence as a public health issue, and most importantly, is led by community members most impacted by the gun violence. Founded by Dr. Gary Slutkin in 1995, CV focuses on: 1 – detecting and interrupting violence; 2 – changing the behavior of people at the highest risk for violence; and 3 – changing social norms. Recruiting and training Violence Interrupters is a key component of CV.  Violence Interrupters understand the streets and are of the people. They are not managed by police departments nor do police officers canvass the streets with Violence Interrupters. 

It’s important to point out CV is endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, recommended by the National League of Cities, highlighted in the award winning documentary The Interrupters and received the U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Community Partnerships for Public Safety. CV garnered international acclaim in 2011 and became a fully funded NGO in 2019.  

We the people can insist CV be brought in as a scaffolding resource for grassroots workers on the ground combating gun violence. 

Salisbury’s gun violence problem isn’t about “either/or”; it is about “both/and” and  “all of the above”. There is no one panacea, but we have tools at our fingertips. The CV assessment will help our community lock hands in a circle with the NAACP’s CeaseFire, Kings and Queens in Training, NightCrawlers, Compass & Gemstones, Operation CleanSlate, Bridge-4-Kids, grassroots work emanating from the Stop the Violence Summit of 2017, S&H Youth and Adult Services and provide substantive training to Violence Interrupters. 

The County’s mandate is public health. The City’s local circumstances demonstrate death by gun violence is our reality. Elected public servants have the authority and duty to make the humanity-centered decision to prioritize the urgent needs of the people they serve through policy, strategic partnerships and innovation. Fund the comprehensive assessment offered by CV and allocate sustainable funding to mitigate gun violence in our City. 

Everyday people can grab the wheel, turn the curve and cure the violence. 

Al Heggins