Forum seeks peace in community

peace summit

Update: 10:30 pm, 2/19/17, Sunday

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA — Efforts to fight gun violence are uniting people in the community. A peace summit helped dozens understand how they can help keep guns off the streets.

One of the biggest reasons for this is because there were four homicides in Urbana alone last year.

That’s why people are asking if those could have been prevented, and if people can do more to stop conflict before it gets violent. They’re hoping if they can do that, the numbers will be different this year.

A man was shot and killed last November. Just two weeks later, there was another shooting death. Both victims were under the age of 25.

People say it’s time to interrupt whatever is causing these shootings to happen, because police aren’t called until after the damage is done.

“We’re calling on the community to come out and get involved, because we know that the police can only do so much,” said Patricia Avery, of the Champaign-Urbana Area Project.

Avery has stood against violence since she was 9-years old, when her life was forever changed by it.

“My mom was killed by a stray bullet,” said Avery. “Bullets have no eyes.”

Her mission, she said, is “To just tell people just how devastating and how impactful gun violence can be. Not just to the immediate families.”

She spearheaded this discussion to communicate that. She also brought in some outside help.

“I came from Chicago specifically to work here in Champaign-Urbana,” said Tio Hardiman, president of Peace Interrupters, Inc.

Hardiman has traveled all over the U.S. to help bring peace to communities dealing with gun violence. Interrupting the problem is his profession, so much that they call him “Mister Cease Fire.”

But he says you’ve got to do more than just that. 

The key is, “Changing mindsets and behaviors associated with violence,” said Hardiman, “because if you mediate a conflict, the guys are still on ground zero in the neighborhood. So you have to follow up with guys on a regular basis.”

Several people at the summit talked about how to do that. They suggested helping people prone to violence clean their record, so later, they can get jobs and turn their lives around.

They all agreed, among so many shootings, there’s one thing they can’t do.

“We cannot become so desensitized to it that we think that it’s just the norm,” said Avery.

The C-U Fresh Start program is already working to help with this mission. That’s from the law enforcement perspective.

People at the summit said they want to use that idea to come up with a similar program of their own, too.

The Urbana City Council approved hiring two new police officers to help combat violence. Mayor Laurel Prussing said she went to the Urbana Police Chief after the fourth homicide to see what the city can do to increase policing.

The council plans to vote on hiring three more officers later on.

Original: 10:00 pm, 2/18/17, Saturday

CHAMPAIGN — Dozens in C-U brought the community’s gun violence back into discussion.

The Champaign-Urbana area project hosted a forum.

The group is trying to restore peace they say has been lost after dozens of shootings.

They talked about ways to help law enforcement respond to violent situations, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

They hope to spread a message: You can stand up against violence, even if it doesn’t happen in your backyard.

“We’re calling on the community to come out and get involved, because we know that the police can only do so much, and we’re actually the community,” said organizer Patricia Avery.
This will be the first of at least several more meetings.
In the future, the group hopes to use their ideas to team up with law enforcement and city leaders’ efforts.

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