Some community activists against Birmingham’s Violence Reduction Initiative

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Some community leaders are asking that a controversial effort to reduce crime in Birmingham be done away with, sort of. They say a portion of the city’s Violence Reduction Initiative isn’t the right solution.

The VRI is touted as a way to not only make communities safer, but to help change the lives of criminals.

Recently, the initiative has been highly criticized by some community leaders following a VRI operation in Pratt City. That investigation led to arrests and took guns and drugs off the streets, but some say these militarized tactics by police are only hurting high crime areas.

New Era Birmingham is one group with eyes and ears in the community and wants a component of the VRI done away with completely. Organization leaders would like to see a specific component, which they say, unjustly targets and criminalizes people without them knowing, done away with. That component is blamed for allowing police to use militarized tactics in communities and criminalize people living in these communities.

“We can approach violence and curing violence from the only position that’s possible to stop it, which is community,” said Avee-Ashanti Shabazz. “The community involvement is the only thing that can stop crime because the community involvement is the only one who is going to have a ear to the conversation that takes place before the act actually takes place.”

Carlos Chaverst is with the National Action Network. he says the real issue that needs to be addressed is poverty.

“Yes, we have to have jobs, we have to have resource,” said Chaverst. “You can’t tell a young person to go out to get a job if they’re not skilled or have necessary resources to be able to get that job.’

Chaverst says once poverty is addressed, that in turn will reduce violence.

Chaverst and Shabazz both say reducing crime should be a collaborative effort between the community and police.

“It takes individuals that are literally in these communities everyday fighting, already fighting, to work with our elected officials to come to some resolve,” said Chaverst.

“It’s leadership’s responsibility to come up with ideas in order to fix the problems that exist as opposed to just locking away the ramifications of the problems that exist,” said Shabazz.

The director of the VRI program was interviewed on the CBS42 Morning News in early February. Click here to watch her interview in defense of the program.

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