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Pontiac Town Hall on Violence—8 Key Strategies from Community Leaders

By: Jennifer Lucarelli, PhD, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences, Oakland University 

Pontiac hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday night on violence and public safety. In case you missed it, here are some of the key take home messages we heard from the all-star line up of leaders and activists working tirelessly to change the culture of violence.

  1. De-Escalation Techniques
    A new phrase to me, “de-escalation” techniques are tested communications strategies that help reduce conflict between people, that help to PREVENT violence, rather than reacting to violence. Many leaders called for making training widely available for the whole community—sign me up.
  2. It Takes a Village 
    We’ve heard the phrase over and over again, but what does it really mean? Community activists Norbert Burrows (I am the Village) and Rahim Harris (Pontiac Universal Crimes) have been working for years creating connections between people and quite literally, creating “the village.” Watch for expansions of their work developing block clubs and neighborhood associations, and get ready to get out and meet your neighbors.   
  3. Accountability 
    I am now terrified of everyone’s mom. Stories of “when I was a kid”… Their moms knew everyone. If they were out there misbehaving, or even acting mildly disrespectful, their mom knew about it—before they even got home—and were ready to straighten them out. And accountability doesn’t just end with your mom…
  4. Rethinking “Snitching”
    The powerful voices of Tameka Ramsey (T. Ramsey and Associates) and Angela Powell (County Commissioner) eloquently described the importance of our community moving past “snitching” into a place of collective responsibility for the quality of our neighborhoods. They urged the audience to lean into reporting criminal activity, drug houses, and guns to prevent those situations from escalating into violent acts. They made it clear—it is OUR responsibility to keep our neighborhoods safe. They praised the anonymous reporting and quick response of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO).
  5. Supporting Families 
    If there’s one thing we can all agree upon, it’s raising children in this day and age is tough. Pastor Doug Jones (Welcome Missionary Baptist Church) and others spoke about instilling positive values in our children and supporting families. He described churches opening up their doors for youth and community programs, but they can’t do it alone. Our leaders called upon the city, businesses, organizations, and individuals to provide more opportunities for youth to learn and grow, to keep them out of trouble, and to provide positive role models and mentorship.
  6. Innovative Strategies for Victims of Violence 
    And I’m not just talking about therapy. While therapy and/or counseling are critical for those impacted by violence, Deleah Sharp (Identify Your Dreams, IDYD) opened our eyes to innovative strategies, such as “bedside interventions” (programs that work with people hospitalized as a result of violent acts) which help teach victims de-escalation strategies and prevent retaliation and more violence. Deleah’s work with IDYD supports youth who have lost their loved ones to violence to help them heal through a variety of programs and one-on-one support.
  7. The Research
    Dr. Samino Scott (Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership) and William Carrington (Council President Pro Tem) discussed sociological research that honestly was a little over my head, and I’m even a professor. Let me break it down, as I understand it so far. Violence is a complex problem rooted at the intersectionality of culture, values, beliefs, and societal issues such as generational poverty, structural racism and discrimination, the very real injustices experienced by our families, and a sense of hopelessness. And while these BIG societal problems can feel overwhelming and insurmountable, by understanding these theories and the smaller pieces that contribute to violence, we can strategically act to address smaller pieces of the puzzle. Combining our local expertise, lived experiences, and assets with evidence-based practices can accelerate our progress.
  8. We Are Stronger Together
    Violence isn’t going to be fixed by one person, organization, faith leader, or elected official. We are stronger together, and Pontiac has more organizations at the table working together than I’ve seen in any other community in Southeast Michigan. To build upon this strength, Pontiac Mayor Tim Greimel announced the launch of an Anti-Violence Commission/Taskforce. And this is not just words to placate the audience. The administration is moving at a refreshing pace—commission members will be announced at the next city council meeting (which are held Tuesdays at 6pm, and can be watched live at City Hall or streamed via Facebook). 

Let’s continue to show up, speak out, and keep this momentum going. Stay tuned while the Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership continues to work with the city and other partnering organizations to improve safety in our community.