For Akron, reducing gun violence starts by targeting illegal weapons, leaders say
Akron officials are implementing a strategy to address the public health crisis of gun-related violence in the city. This effort is part of Akron's goal to reduce violent crime committed by young people ages 13 to 24 by 10% between 2024 and 2028.
An important step in reaching this goal, said Denico Buckley-Knight, the city's recently-hired youth and community opportunity director, is stemming the tide of illegal weapons entering the community.
"I think one of the things we got to realize is a lot of our young adults aren't going to the gun shops to buy guns," Buckley-Knight said. "We really need to start to identify where are these guns coming from and how to eliminate getting them into our community."
There are no commercial firearms dealers or stores within the city limits of Akron, said Lieutenant Michael Miller, a spokesperson for Akron's police.
The effort comes against the backdrop of a city beset by gun violence, said Cory Kendrick, policy and legislative affairs manager at Summit County Public Health.
"Gun violence has risen exponentially, accounting for 95% plus of all homicides in Summit County," he said.
Deaths from firearms rose by 204% from 2014 to 2022 and, in 2021, 94% of deaths by assault in Summit County were firearm-related, according to Kendrick.
It's Black residents who bear the brunt of the violence, he said. Black residents accounted for 74% of firearm-related assault deaths in Summit County even as they only account for little more than 14% of the county's population.
"Guns are negatively impacting our length of life and quality of life, be it suicide or violence in our community," Kendrick said.
Meetings between city officials from various agencies and community members play an important role in uncovering this information, said Miller.
"This collaborative approach to multiple touch points [allows the city] to access the people most impacted from a victim standpoint, but also who are the people most likely to... commit crimes and or perpetrate some of these crimes," he said.
The next meeting will be the May 26 "Voices for Positive Change" event at the John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center on Copley Road in Akron.
The event, which starts at 6 p.m., is billed as an effort "to bring the community together for healing and positive change regarding the Jayland Walker verdict," according to a flyer. The event will include groups discussing peace, relationships and healing and are facilitated by Minority Behavioral Health Group and Project Ujima.
Getting at the source of the violence by limiting access to illegally purchased weapons is like stopping a water leak by getting at its source, Miller said.
"You know something's going on beneath the surface," he said. "You don't know the point of origin until you get down in there and you figure out ... how you can plug the hole and stop it."
To reach its violence reduction goals, the city also calls for youth one-on-one mentoring, safe recreational and social programs, re-entry support for the formerly incarcerated, initiatives that build trust between youth and the police, more mental health and substance abuse support, strategies that restrict unsupervised and unrestricted access to guns, a dialogue and feedback process to generate sustained community feedback and training, job placement and coaching.
The city said it used American Rescue Plan Act dollars to hire Buckley-Knight, the Youth and Community Opportunity Director to oversee the strategic plan's implementation and to fund 39 local providers with grants.
The interest from community organizations was overwhelming, said Buckley-Knight. The city received $20-million worth of applications for funding. It had only $4 million to allocate.