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November Safety Network meeting covers juvenile gun violence, Cure Violence update

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali speaks to the Safety Network in front of a picture of her great nephew, 15-year-old Merian Smith who was shot and killed in the city's 22nd juvenile gun violence injury of 2022.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali speaks to the Safety Network in front of a picture of her great nephew, 15-year-old Merian Smith, who was shot and killed in the city's 22nd juvenile gun violence injury of 2022.

The November meeting for the Safety Network, a group of Peoria community leaders and residents with the goal of reducing gun violence, included an update from the police department, conversations about juvenile gun violence and new details on the Cure Violence readiness assessment.

Peoria Police Department crime analyst Jacob Moushon said that, overall, shooting incidents are down 30% and shooting murders down 31% in November 2022, compared with the same time in 2021. Despite these improvements, there are still concerning trends in gun violence in Peoria.

“Juveniles being shot and involved in shootings is on the rise dramatically,” said Moushon. “Especially when you look at 2020 and 2019, where our numbers were in the low teens, versus now being in the upper 20s and approaching the 30s.”

This week, 15-year-old Merian Smith was killed in a shooting. Peoria Mayor Rita Ali is Smith’s great aunt. She said the rising number of juvenile gunshot victims speaks to a need for focusing on juvenile gun violence.

“It means that we need to look so much younger at what's happening with our youth, who are still school age youth who are carrying guns, who are using guns,” said Ali. “Who are not handling their anger in a way that used to be handled in terms of fistfights or, you know, arguments. The arguments are ending in homicides, the arguments are ending in shootings.”

Some of the potential solutions proposed at the meeting included an alternative school for boys, anger management programs for kids and bolstering support for area mentoring programs.

The conversation also turned to topics like culture, race and interpersonal neighborhood relationships. Ali said these conversations are part of what Safety Network is all about.

“Those discussions, I think lead to more knowledge and growth and more unity and understanding,” said Ali. “We need to understand what the root causes of these problems are, that come out, you know, as homicides and shootings, but there's a root cause underneath.”

Ali said these incidents happen heavily in African American neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods with wide racial and ethnic disparities. Root causes can include issues like employment, housing and environment.

“We have to also focus on that youth’s family,” said Ali. “And we have to wrap supports around the entire household.”

The Peoria City/County Health Department also provided an update on the Cure Violence readiness assessment. The four- part process started back in October as Cure Violence, a violence prevention group that recruits “interrupters” from communities, evaluated which parts of Peoria could benefit the most from the program and how it could be implemented.

Kathryn Endress, director of epidemiology and clinical services, said the program has determined two “catchment zones” where Cure Violence could primarily operate. The first priority is around the intersection of Arcadia Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The second area surrounds the intersection of Starr Street and Griswold Street.

Now, the assessment is moving on to part three.

“The individuals from Cure Violence will come back to Peoria, and meet with individuals that may be interested in serving as those credible messengers, interrupters and outreach workers,” said Endress. “Just to kind of answer any questions that they might have about doing the work, as well as determine their suitability for serving in those roles.”

This phase is expected to take one to two weeks. Endress said the final phase, a full report on the readiness assessment’s findings, will most likely be ready by the end of November.

The next meeting of the Safety Network is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 9.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.