How Fort Worth, Tarrant County plan to address rising youth gun violence | #schoolsaftey

Pastor and activist Rodney McIntosh has been working to decrease violence in his community for years, so when council member Jared Williams approached him about joining a new group working to put an end to youth gun violence, he wondered: How would this work be different?

Nineteen teens in Fort Worth have died by gun violence since January 2022. From 1999 to 2020 Tarrant County has averaged 18 shooting deaths of teens per year, according to the CDC. The highest number was in 2020, at 47. The numbers led United Way, the city and county to ask what can be done to slow this trend toward violence.

“When we lost one, we lost too many, especially if it’s a teenager,” McIntosh, who runs VIP FW, a nonprofit formed in 2019 dedicated to interrupting gang violence before it happens. “We don’t know what he could have been.”

The newly formed One Second Collaborative will create a new method to end youth gun violence, said Regina Williams, executive vice president and chief impact officer at United Way. Unlike past city and county-funded efforts, the organization will use input from schools, healthcare systems and nonprofits to tailor its response to young people in need of resources to keep them out of violent scenarios. The effort will also provide resources to nonprofits already working to reduce youth gun violence.

“We’ve got to do something different,” Williams said.

The city, county and Fort Worth Police Department have made several attempts to address escalating gun violence through other committees, programs and task forces. Often, those efforts fall short in the eyes of community members most closely impacted by gun violence, McIntosh said. This effort could be different, he said, because it brings agencies focused on the many factors, such as poverty, housing and family instability that lead a teen or child to become involved in violence into the same room where they will work to solve the problem.

“The kids’ lives are too important for us to sit in the place and to have all these meetings, and we never see the benefits of it in the community,” McIntosh said. “I want the community … to hold us responsible for making sure this is just not conversation.”

Friday, a group of advocates called United My Justice held a press conference in response to the shooting deaths of two Fort Worth residents, a 12-year-old, a 19-year old and a Wednesday night gun fight resulting in one death. The advocates called for the city and Fort Worth Police Department to do more in addressing gun violence.

“They make these promises but they don’t follow through,” Liz Badgley, press secretary with United My Justice, said. “What did you do with the money?… “where is the data that this is working? I just don’t see it over here.”

The organization is asking for an audit of programs that got funds from the Fort Worth Police Department’s CCPD fund. Many of the programs look good on paper, but when they’re implemented you don’t see their impact in the community, Badgley said.

Despite a reduction in violent crime so far in 2023, statistics show that this summer will likely result in more gun violence deaths.

Support for the collaborative comes from federal funds allocated to the city and county through the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal law meant to help local economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Collaborative organizers plan to use the money to produce measurable impact — fewer shootings among teens — and then seek additional funding from the community to continue the work.

The city provided $4.4 million and the county gave $1.9 million to United Way to establish the One Second Collaborative, which is housing and coordinating the effort. Soon, a portion of the funds will be reallocated to smaller nonprofits already working to reduce gun violence among youth. The total program cost is estimated to be $4.4 million for a little over two years.

The group recently hired a new director, Samuel Varner, who grew up in Fort Worth. Attending Dunbar High School, he said, he witnessed violence among teens that continues to grip many of Fort Worth’s communities.

“I survived all of the risk factors that a lot of young people that we work with experience,” Varner said.

The organization also appointed community members to a steering committee, with representatives from the Fort Worth Police Department, Fort Worth, Tarrant County, school districts, several nonprofits and nine different community members from targeted ZIP codes.

The collaboration is gaining steam, Williams said. Steering committee members accepted applications from nonprofits working to address youth gun violence. Those selected will receive funding from the program to scale up their existing efforts.

Committee members also will be charged with helping to process and evaluate the applications based on need and ability to scale the work each organization is doing. The nonprofits will be required to report the impact of their scaled-up programs to United Way.

The public will be able to attend a public input session June 28 to learn more about the program. There, United Way will discuss the project’s progress, grant allocations and forming working groups to address issues like housing and poverty.

**Where: Online

The problem

It’s not uncommon for schooling to be put on hold because of police activity in Fort Worth ISD, superintendent Angelica Ramsey said. Gun violence leads to lost instructional time for students who are likely also impacted by the trauma of police activity and violence.

“In my tenure, we’ve lost students to gun violence,” Ramsey said. “This collaborative is solution- oriented, where a broad cross-section of our community is coming together in this steering committee to provide a comprehensive public safety plan to make our entire community better for years to come.”

Along with community members, Robert Alldredge Sr., an assistant chief with the Fort Worth police department, sits on the steering committee.

Williams understands the communities they are targeting historically distrust the police and institutions like the justice system. They plan to be transparent with the community and provide opportunities for the community to have a voice, Varner said.

Establishing trust

McIntosh knows firsthand what might await young people if they break out of the cycle of violence, he was once just like those kids — going to prison twice. Now, he’s devoted his life to ending gun violence in his community and sees this collaboration as an opportunity to combine his efforts with other nonprofits. He’s able to educate fellow committee members about gang culture and in turn, he learns about mental health from a medical professional, he said.

“We’re able to bounce stuff off of each other,” he said.

Trust is paramount in McIntosh’s work. The kids he serves have been historically neglected by the institutions meant to shepherd them into adulthood. Trust among youth stuck in a cycle of violence is hard to earn, and, once you have it, easy to lose, he said.

That’s why he has been slow to closely collaborate with other nonprofits. He doesn’t want to refer youth to a service, only to have those people misunderstand the kid and his problems.

Each group brings its own expertise in an effort to holistically address the root causes of teen violence. McIntosh said he learns something new at every meeting, and as a former gang member familiar with the pressures young men are facing, he provides unique insights to his fellow committee members.

This sort of cross-pollination of insights is exactly the goal of the collaboration, Williams said. Bringing formerly disparate groups together allows United Way and its partners the ability to provide a continuum of care not possible without everyone’s insights.

Patty Pressley is representing the 76116 ZIP code on the steering committee. She has seen how violence in her community can have a ripple effect, traumatizing the young people she works with at the Cougar Corner, a food pantry that provides meals and resources to students at Western Hills High School.

“If the goal is to get the kids help, then we need to make it easier for the kid to get the help and to want to get the help,” Pressley said.

Pressley knows several students who have been impacted by gun violence either through witnessing a shooting, or losing friends and family members to gun violence. The trauma can irrevocably change the kids, she said. One student who recently returned to his family’s apartment on Las Vegas Trail after spending time away at college told her he feels constantly anxious at home. Another found it difficult to hold down a job after witnessing the killing of his 16-year-old relative.

“I don’t know what the answers are,” Pressley said. She hopes the steering committee will find some solutions, she said.

What’s different

When Williams first approached McIntosh to learn more about how he would approach putting an end to gun violence, he provided a list of resources young people need to get out of a cycle of violence — mental healthcare, food, housing, the list goes on.

Through his work with VIP, he often meets teens who don’t want to be out on the streets at 2 a.m. but simply have nowhere else to go.

In 2017, the Race and Culture Task Force was formed after a video of the Fort Worth Police Department’s arrest of Jacqueline Craig, a Black woman, went viral. The task force met to discuss and identify the issues causing inequality within Fort Worth’s minority communities. The committee identified inequities within the city’s justice system, housing, infrastructure and more.

The Fort Worth City Council recently rejected a proposal for a community police oversight board, which was recommended by the task force.

“We have droves of committees, a lot of people in high places making decisions and doing things and having meetings, but it never really trickled down to where we see the effect of it in our community,” McIntosh said.

What’s different this time, Williams said, is having a diverse group of nonprofit, city, school, county and community leaders working together to solve the problem of gun violence with millions of dollars dedicated to helping smaller nonprofits scale their work. Measuring impact through seeing less shootings is imperative, Williams said, because that’s how the nonprofit will work to secure more funding.

For an under-resourced organization like McIntosh’s, an infusion of capital could mean mentoring 50 more kids in need of guidance, he said.

The organization is essentially putting its money where its mouth is, Williams said. McIntosh said he thinks there are enough action-oriented people on the steering committee to ensure the group doesn’t become ineffective like past committees.

The key to success is simple, McIntosh said: continuous outreach to the communities that need more support and ensuring the funds available go to the right people.

“We definitely have got to be able to show that impact,” McIntosh said.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at [email protected] or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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