RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Raleigh is investing in a new people-powered program to curb the crisis of gun violence. City leaders have signed off on spending $1.2 million on new community violence interrupters. It's a project spearheaded by the head of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, a 51-year-old Air Force veteran who has seen his share of bloodshed from gun crime.
Gerald Givens was not born or raised in Raleigh, he spent his formative years in St. Louis and Detroit. But Raleigh's despair and disgust over its increasing rates of gun violence are emotions Givens knows painfully well. He was robbed at gunpoint at 15 and survived. Many in his family were not as fortunate.
"I've lost seven family members to gun violence in my lifetime. I've lost my grandfather, my uncle, my brother and four cousins," said Givens who has served as NAACP Raleigh-Apex President since 2018.
His grandfather, Muriel Givens, was shot at home in bed in 1974. The murder is still unsolved. His brother, Lavelle Givens, was just 22 years old when he was shot and killed in 1997 and three months ago in St. Louis, Givens' two-year-old cousin, Israel, got access to his father's gun shooting and killing himself.
"It's a lot of trauma. And I know what this pain is like. So that's why I'm so dedicated to this particular issue," Givens said.
Raleigh's gun violence crisis is clear: more gun crimes; and more of them committed by teenagers.
"11% of the aggravated assaults in the fourth quarter were committed by juveniles who had access to a firearm," said Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson at a January news conference.
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The 49 homicides in 2022 were Raleigh's highest single-year tally since the FBI began keeping comprehensive violent crime stats. The final quarter of last year saw a 50% increase in homicides over the same period a year before.
The disturbing trends triggered Givens to pitch city leaders on his idea for violence intervention.
"I think what we can do is begin to do what we can to mitigate some of the problems," Givens said when asked why he thinks his plan can fix the problem confounding so many cities.
He's calling it 'Boots on the Ground', a five-member team of trained community-led violence interrupters providing projects and services, a digital dashboard to account for what's working and what's not; and a 4-5 year safety plan for the mayor.
The program is rolling out in four parts of the city especially vulnerable to gun crimes -- including where ABC 11 conducted its interview with Givens -- the 1600 block of New Bern Avenue.
"The data tells us this is where we need to be," Givens said. "You've got homelessness. You've got drug addiction. You have unemployment issues. And I can go on and on."
Givens is aiming to address the root causes of gun violence with cognitive behavioral therapy for conflict resolution. Plus, support services for survivors of gun crimes.
Amid all the bloodshed, from his own family to the city he calls home now, this gun violence survivor is confident Boots on the Ground can bring change.
"I am optimistic that we can get these things done, very optimistic." Givens said.
The city of Raleigh's initial investment in Boots on the Ground is $1.2 million along with another $800,000 for the city's ACORNS police division.
Currently, a panel of local leaders is selecting the violence interrupters. Orientation and training will begin when the team is in place later this year.
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