While visiting a friend at the Woodland Springs apartment complex in District Heights, Devin Rice walked with Mayor Jonathan Medlock on a basketball court to receive information on job training opportunities that could lead to permanent employment.
Rice, 24, also signed up to play three-on-three basketball.
“If events like this are held more often, that would help decrease gun violence,” said Rice of Baltimore City, who works odd jobs to support his four-year-old daughter.
“Everyone needs jobs but also pushing basketball for those 18 and under helps get them off the streets,” he said.
Rice joined dozens of Prince George’s County residents, local officials and community leaders Friday, June 25 for an “Our Streets, Our Future” initiative led by State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy.
Besides youth perfecting their jump shots and layups, older residents received information on social services that included mental health, finances and employment.
Last year, as of May 30, the county had recorded 32 homicides. But this year remains a different story with 56 homicides reported — an 87 percent increase.
Braveboy has pushed for a “holistic approach” to not only solve crimes but to rehabilitate and assist people either recently released or currently incarcerated.
Thanks to the support of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the majority-Black jurisdiction will become the first in the state to begin a pilot program this month to help those currently behind bars. The Emerging Adults Program will feature sessions on character development, mentorship and job training. Returning citizens continue to be encouraged to volunteer and participate.
“This is the way forward and our communities deserve to be safe…” Braveboy said during an interview Thursday, June 24. “But we also need to ensure we are not throwing people away when we know that we can restore individuals who have caused harm in our community.”
However, while innovative, these and other initiatives require money, collaboration and long-term commitments.
Braveboy joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) during a virtual roundtable to discuss new ways to reduce and prevent gun violence in Maryland.
Part of the nearly 80-minute discussion focused on what the federal government could do to help the state and counties secure additional funding and resources.
“We’re going to work to try and get those resources that we can fund,” Van Hollen said. “Some of the programs have not been given a chance but we have a good evidentiary basis [that could allow us to] expand those that are successful.”
The discussion came one day after President Joe Biden announced the administration’s plan to decrease violence. The president wants some COVID-19 relief funds to pay for summer employment, youth programs and intervention programs in public schools.
Another proposal would focus on formerly incarcerated people as they seek to reenter the workforce.
Van Hollen said stronger gun policies would also deter gun violence. He reintroduced a bill this year that would require individuals applying for a gun license to go through a law enforcement background check that includes fingerprinting and taking a photograph.
Although Maryland is one of several states to incorporate the “permit-to-purchase” law, a summary of the bill highlights that about 54 percent of the guns used in crime in the state can be traced back to states without the law.
Dr. Joseph Richardson, chair of the African American Studies department at the University of Maryland in College Park, said insufficient mental health services must be addressed. He presented statistics from his work as a researcher and principal investigator at the University of Maryland Hospital Center in Cheverly.
Over the past few years, Prince George’s reported 193 non-fatal shootings, which rose last year to 295.
This year, with 175 non-fatal shootings already reported, he predicts the upward trend “puts us on pace for almost 350.”
“This level of community trauma not only affects the individual engaged but it also affects communities and families,” said Richardson, who also conducts research at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
“We need far more mental health resources that are acceptable in communities but we also need community violence intervention strategies that are on the ground,” he said.