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Keep state funding for anti-violence program, get the community involved

STATE SEN. BILL PERKINS | 4/12/2011, 4:45 p.m.

Operation SNUG, a state program to curb gun violence and create safer communities, is a relatively new program, but it works. We, as a State Legislature, have an obligation to protect our people, which means we also must protect this program. But success will not come from the work of administrators and educators alone; everyone in our community must get involved in ending violence.

In today's political climate, any mention of controlling gun violence sparks a volatile argument over the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. But that debate distracts from Operation SNUG's real mission. Operation SNUG chooses to avoid theoretical debates on cable news and aims to speak to those who are directly shackled by gun violence.

The targets are those youth and young adults who have seen gang and gun violence hurt their friends or even their families. The targets are those longtime members of the community who long for the days when they and their families could comfortably walk the streets of their neighborhood. They are also those kids who, without an intervening influence, may eventually be responsible for gang or gun violence.

Senate Democrats developed the program in 2008 after a series of shootings in order to fight back against violence. Here in the district I represent, we experienced eight shootings that year over the Memorial Day weekend alone. That rash of shootings and killings prompted us to hold an emergency meeting in the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building with community leaders and residents. A few weeks later, we were joined by former Gov. David Paterson to announce the statewide Operation SNUG initiative.

As Operation SNUG presents the "Don't Shoot NY" march and rally on Feb. 27 in Times Square, I urge Gov. Cuomo and my colleagues in the Legislature to protect this program, and for all residents across the state to join together and collectively break the hold gun violence has had over our communities.

HOW IT WORKS

The goal of SNUG is to find and address the root causes of gun and gang violence. The multifaceted approach attempts to impact both gang members and community members. Whether it is a young person who believes that the gang life is the only avenue or an older person in the community who fears leaving home because of the threats of surrounding neighborhood violence, SNUG realizes that altering the mindset of the entire neighborhood is the true way to ensure lasting change.

A study done by the New York Times found that since 2003, New York City averages 540 homicides per year, with 88 percent of them either Black or Latino. Another study found there were 149 shooting victims and 21 murder victims under the age of 16 in New York City in 2008. Gun violence continues to squelch the potential of too many of New York's minority population, and the time has come to stop overlooking it.

CHANGING THE STATISTICS

To reverse these statistics, SNUG uses a multipronged approach:

*Street intervention and stopping the violence: SNUG uses individuals who have turned away from the violence of the streets to reveal the horrors of that lifestyle to at-risk youth. By coordinating with schools and law enforcement, this tactic disseminates the message of nonviolence to the neighborhood youth in an efficient and effective way.