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Duke ER saw nearly 400 gunshot victims last year. How a Durham task force wants to help.

The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC) logo The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC) 6/21/2022 Virginia Bridges, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

Jun. 21—Dr. Henry Rice said he is tired of taking bullets out of Durham's children.

"I don't want to do it any more," he told the Durham City Council this month.

In December, six young people were shot on a cold, Monday morning. Rice, a pediatric surgeon at Duke University Hospital, cared for the four who survived.

"I was almost struck about how routine these events had become in our community and around the country and around the world," he said. "We simply don't do enough."

At the June 9 council meeting, Rice and the co-chairs of Durham's Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, asked city leaders to commit just over $100,000 to an initiative that would interview survivors of gun violence.

The study could lead to the creation of a local office to serve survivors of violent crime, part of the task force's mission to find solutions to violent crime that don't involve police or the criminal justice system.

Council members liked the idea, but several had concerns, chiefly about how much work the study could create for the city's new Community Safety Department. The department is already launching multiple pilot programs related to responding to 911 calls.

Some council members also want to see Duke and Durham County contribute more to the project.

"All the partners that have a pocket book need to put some money in it, and not just the city," said Mayor Elaine O'Neal.

'Prescriptions for Repair'

The co-chairs asked the council for roughly $112,000 to fund a public private partnership that would also include $35,000 from Duke University's Institute for Health Innovations.

The "Prescriptions for Repair" study would be administered by the Community Safety Department, and an "advisory circle" of volunteers that includes the director of the Duke Hospital Violence Intervention Program, Rice, and others.

Listening to survivors' stories would reframe the community's response to gun violence to center the experience and needs of those harmed, the proposal states.

"We do a good job at Duke Hospital in stopping bleeding and sewing holes and getting people out of the hospital," Rice said. "We don't do a very good job of tending to their needs during their recovery time."

What officials learn could shape a Durham Office of Survivor Care, which is expected to be part of the task force's full recommendations next year.

Xavier Cason and Marcia Owen co-chair the task force. Owen was the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham's executive director for years and helped found Restorative Justice Durham, where she remains in a volunteer leadership role.

Cason, the Durham Public Schools Foundation's director of community schools and school partnerships, is a former Durham school board member and teacher.

When the task force was created, then Mayor Steve Schewel told it to bring forward pressing needs, Cason said.

Owen said the study would help fill a gap she's been concerned about for years. Some local programs directly deal with harm caused by gun violence, but no programs "listen to what survivors identify are the needs that violence creates," a report on the proposal states.

The program would connect 40 gun violence survivors with 20 facilitators in structured confidential listening sessions. Participants would be paid $25 an hour.

Each participant would be offered at least eight hours in listening sessions, during which they would discuss what happened and "what needs to be done to make things as right as possible," the proposal states.

Participants' names would not appear in the report that would follow.

53% increase in gunshot victims

Over the past two years, the Duke emergency room has seen a 53% increase in gunshot victims, according to the proposal.

Fiscal year 2021 brought 393 gunshot victims to the hospital compared to 280 in 2020 and 215 the year before. Most were Black men between 16 and 29 years old.

The request for city funds comes halfway through the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force's two-year mission to recommend public-safety alternatives.

Durham Beyond Policing, a community coalition, lobbied for the task force instead of hiring more police officers in 2019.

In 2020, the City Council earmarked $1 million for it, with Schewel calling the unprecedented funding of a task force in the city a "down payment."

The City Council would still need to approve any spending over $50,000.

So far the task force has spent just $23,000, for translation and other needs, Owen said.

A shift on the Durham City Council

The 15-member task force launched in 2021.

Council members Mark-Anthony Middleton and DeDreana Freeman opposed the task force funding in a then-familiar 4-2 council split.

Middleton and Freeman supported policing alternatives. But they also backed a 2019 request from the police chief for 18 more officers that the council majority — including Jillian Johnson, Javiera Caballero, and Charlie Reece — rejected.

That dynamic shifted, however, after the November election.

Voters elected O'Neal and now-City Councilman Leonardo Williams. Schewel didn't seek re-election.

After the new council took office in December, Johnson's mayor pro tem status was transferred to Middleton.

In addition, Reece resigned from the council in March, and Monique Holsey-Hyman was appointed.

Durham City Council comments

At the council's June 9 meeting, Johnson and Caballero supported the study and urged it be reviewed and moved forward.

"I think this is an incredible project. I think this is exactly why we set money aside for this task force," Caballero said.

The study is an important piece in the safety and wellness puzzle, Johnson said.

Holsey-Hyman cautioned about raising the expectations of the study's participants.

"They want solutions," she said. "They just don't want it to be [another study] in somebody's library."

Middleton expressed concern about the new department taking on more responsibilities right now.

"It's a bandwidth issue," he said, explaining he doesn't want the task force creating programs that exhaust its budget or add work to other departments.

"My thinking was that million [dollars] would serve the work of the task force," not change the organizational chart or structure of the city, he said.

This story was originally published June 21, 2022 9:59 AM.

(c)2022 The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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