Clarence Venable is dead. The 40-year old was shot and killed on the street last weekend following a training session that would lead to his work of helping end gun violence in the streets of D.C. It was, reportedly, a job he looked forward to — one he believed would allow him to make a difference in communities in D.C. where violent crime is on the rise.
Venable, reportedly, was once a contributor to the negative elements that make so many D.C. neighborhoods unsafe. Yet, he was the kind of person D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine envisioned would make an effective candidate to participate in the less than two-year-old CURE Violence program aimed at interrupting or preventing shootings and killings between 20 to 60 percent in targeted D.C. neighborhoods.
The use of violence interrupters and the advent of the CURE the Streets program in other cities has experienced a modicum of progress. Even in D.C., the OAG reported to the D.C. Council last year that significant contacts were made in target neighborhoods, high-risk individuals have been identified and put into case management, more than seven shooting responses have been made in Wards 5 and 7, and that violence interrupters have facilitated 10 mediations (six in Ward 8 and four in Ward 5) to defuse potentially violent situations.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that while these men and women who are putting themselves on the frontlines to address the violence problem, the repercussions of their work is taking a toll. They have seen the life of a colleague taken by gun violence, a family member, too, and others were forced to respond to a near-fatal incident of a young person with whom they were attempting to counsel. All the while seeking to fulfill a strategy that involves interrupting violence, identifying and treating those at highest risk for committing violent crime, and changing community norms around the normalization of violence.
Venable was one of several trained violence interrupters working to end violence but who also find themselves sometimes standing in between law enforcement and potential victims falsely accused of committing a violent crime. The work they do is risky, to say the least.
We concur with the OAG who told the council nearly a year ago that violence is not inevitable and that the District can succeed in decreasing violent crime with dedicated, sustained investment. But money, we know, is not all that is needed. We appreciate the risks these men and women are taking to ensure a safer place for us all. But their lives are important, too. The OAG must do more to train and protect violence interrupters from violent perpetrators who remain ever present. Clearly, there is no quick fix. But we remain hopeful that Mr. Venable’s death will serve as an example of how much more needs to be done.