Tensions are rising again over gun violence in Madison, as a fatal shooting on the west side overnight prompted the mayor to harshly blame neighborhood residents and one of the city’s staunchest anti-violence advocates announced he’d no longer participate in city-funded violence prevention efforts.
Frustrated by what he sees as the City’s slow response to gun violence, Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson said Tuesday that his organization will no longer participate in city-funded violence prevention and remediation programs.
“After listening to several new initiatives being proposed over the last few weeks and with the summer being halfway over and no real coordinated efforts to address the record breaking shootings occurring in our city, I’ve decided that Boys & Girls Clubs will NO LONGER be a part of any publicly funded efforts associated with response teams,” Johnson wrote in a statement posted to Facebook.
Johnson’s announcement comes after a months-long fight to make sure the Boys and Girls Club was included as the fiscal agent in a contract between the City and Focused Interruption Coalition (FIC) to provide rapid response services to gun violence victims and their families, and to provide peer support in troubled neighborhoods. The Common Council approved that $75,000 contract in June.
That $75,000 contract is the first part of a $400,000 allocation in this year’s city budget set aside to address gun violence, which is in turn part of a $3 million commitment City leaders made to support the 15-Point Plan proposed by Johnson, Alders Matt Phair and Maurice Cheeks, and members of the FIC.
Johnson’s announcement also comes the same day that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin announced a plan to implement one of the points of that plan — training for neighborhood leaders.
“Those of us us in the public sector and the nonprofits must continue to serve communities but we are no substitute for community leadership,” wrote in describing the proposal. “The problem that has plagued our efforts here in Madison has been the absence of consistent community leadership in many of our neighborhoods. As a result, last week, I asked PPS to provide us with a proposal to increase placemaking capacity in the city of Madison with the intention that the training and technical assistance program lead to more than a one-time exercise, but it results in the establishment of ongoing permanent neighborhood leadership.”
Soglin said he intended to have staff review the proposal and unveil it later, but decided to announce it early because of two shootings, one fatal, in the last few days.
In a press conference Tuesday, Soglin said he expected the proposal to cost $35,000 – $40,000, begin in the fall and run through the spring and summer of next year.
“It was prolonged”
That timeline isn’t good enough for Johnson — nor was the timeline for the implementation of the first $75,000 allocation, which wasn’t approved until several shootings had already happened.
“No way can they spend $75,000 in a few weeks,” Johnson said in a text message to Madison365. “It was prolonged and I don’t want to be associated with it at this point.”
“I am convinced we are not ready to address this issue and I don’t want to be associated with this funding as it stands,” Johnson said in his Facebook statement.
But he’s not giving up on the issue.
“Boys & Girls Clubs and our partners will continue to work with the victims of children and families when called upon with private support and appreciate all those who have stepped up so far to attempt to address these issues,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Soglin lay the blame for gun violence squarely with the residents of neighborhoods.
“What we need is people in the neighborhood to step forward,” Soglin said in his Tuesday press conference. “They know who these gangsters are, they know who these murderers are, they know where the guns are. We’ve got to have people speak up. We know there’s a certain danger involved, but there’s a larger danger to the community if this isn’t dealt with now. Neighborhoods don’t work without neighborhood leadership.”
Soglin said increased police presence, “in terms of the immediate challenge, will not make a difference.”
Speaking of people he repeatedly referred to as “gangsters,” Soglin said, “They can only survive in our city if their friends and neighbors give them cover. They can only continue their terrorist activities when witnesses refuse to cooperate with the police. People have to speak up and say the violence has to stop, and we are not going to be a part of the silence that enables it.”
Soglin’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Johnson’s announcement.