Memorial Mural to be unveiled in Ypsilanti to honor those lost to gun violence-Part 1
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and no one needs to tell you violence is pervasive in America. And here in our community, we are no exception. I'm David Fair. And on Saturday, there's going to be an unveiling of a mural that honors those lost locally to gun violence in the second part of our conversation later today, you'll hear from a grandmother who lost her grandson to such incidents. And you're going to hear from the artists that created the mural and the young man who designed it. In this first part of our story, we're going to learn more about efforts to prevent gun violence and build community coalitions to create a brighter future. After several violent incidents in the summer of 2021, Ypsilanti Mayor Lois Allen Richardson called together a diverse group of community members to address violence and hopefully save the lives of many young people. My guests are a part of that group which has become the Community Violence Intervention Team. Officer Derrick Jackson is community engagement director with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office. And thank you for being here today, Derrick.
Derrick Jackson: Thank you for having me.
David Fair: And Jamall Bufford is project specialist and part of the leadership team at Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper. And it's good to see you again as well, Jamall.
Jamall Bufford: Likewise, David.
David Fair: Well, my observations are anecdotal, so, I'll ask you this. Officer Jackson. Perhaps you can provide some context. Has there been an uptick in gun violence in the greater Ypsilanti area and through Washtenaw County of late?
Derrick Jackson: Yeah, I think what we've seen over the last two years is, really, not necessarily a significant uptick. But when it comes to homicides, we have roughly seven or eight a year, which is a lot when you think about Washtenaw County and how safe we are. So, I always want to stress this to people. We are a relatively safe community. But any acts of violence and a gunshot in your neighborhood, if you can imagine hearing that, the impact it has and the trauma and the psychological impact it has is pretty significant.
David Fair: Jamall, the mission of My Brother's Keeper is to keep young men of color and establish cradle-to-career pathways of success in cities, counties, and tribal communities nationwide. What role does violence or the threat of violence play in putting barriers to the goals that you seek to achieve?
Jamall Bufford: Well, I think, you know, when you think about young people and their trajectory into adulthood and, you know, being successful and thriving, you think about what obstacles they face. So, here, as Derrick mentioned, you know, there is the threat of violence. And, you know, it's not a huge threat in comparison to some larger communities across the country. But when you think about how small Ypsilanti is and the rate of murders here, it kind of exposes how difficult this is to deal with. And so, we want to give them opportunities--alternatives--to resorting to violence. You know, we want to create jobs, you know, help make sure that they have the support they need in school and as far as their education. So, any way we can steer them in a different direction is the work we're trying to accomplish.
David Fair: Before we go any further. I just want to clearly state: violence and gun violence is not exclusive to the Black community. It is an American epidemic and involves and impacts all cross-sections of our community. Officer Jackson, the Community Violence Intervention Team convened in recent months. What is the strategy you've come up with this point to prevent violence in the community?
Derrick Jackson: Well, I think it's multi-pronged. So, we started last August, August of 2021, and we've been meeting every week with a couple of cancelations here or there. But think about a group meeting every single week. And it's a group of people who are made up of those who may have pulled the trigger at one point, been shot, people who've lost family members in some community organizations. But there are 14 things that we say that if we do these in Washtenaw County. And it's a balance. There's some accountability measures with law enforcement in addressing crime and those who are committing crime. But there's also the investments in community, the investments in our young people, the investments in the anti-violence workforce. And then, there are things like the mural, which is all about giving our young people and our community safe places to grieve appropriately, because we know if people aren't grieving appropriately, that grief turns into anger, and that anger turns into retaliation.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Jamall Bufford from Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper, and Officer Derrick Jackson from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office about the Community Violence Intervention Team. And, Jamall, as he mentioned strategies as you work with the young men and the community, it sounds as though the CVT is a good supplement to what your messaging is. What strategies does My Brother's Keeper already employ in trying to prevent violence and sometimes dealing with the horrible aftermath?
Jamall Bufford: Yeah. So, we try to create opportunities for them to express themselves, whether it be through music or, you know, working with organizations like Educate Youth. The young man, Deshawn, who came up with the design for the mural, giving them alternatives--a paintbrush, a pad, a pencil, a computer. So, the work we do, you know, we have our Formula 734 music program. We go into the schools. We're at Ypsilanti Middle School with our Young Men of Purpose program. So, whether it be outlets--creative outlets--or just helping them with coping mechanisms, conflict resolution, social emotional learning skills, that's the role we play in this community.
David Fair: And, Officer Jackson, you mentioned retaliation, and I want to focus on that for a minute. I think I read a statistic that 80 to 85% of gun violence in our community is retaliatory in nature. From a policing standpoint, does that actually make it more predictable?
Derrick Jackson: Absolutely. And so, you know, we estimated 80 to 85% is retaliatory in nature. Something happens to someone, and so, they retaliate. And if you know that, it is. It's predictable. And if it's predictable, one of the mantras our CVIT team has is if it's predictable, it's preventable. So, if, you know, if someone's been a victim of violence or they've been in the hospital from a recent shooting, why not get in touch with them? Put your hands on them. Help them to deal with that trauma before it ever turns into anger. And they never think about retaliating. That's one of the things we've been trying to develop here in Washtenaw County. We have a couple of different organizations that are in alignment with these recommendations that are getting to people right after injury and that golden hour and opportunity to help them navigate, so they never turn back to retaliation.
David Fair: So, Jamall, I'm going to put you on the spot for a minute. Predictable is one thing, preventable another. If you couple the retaliatory nature of gun violence with a healthy sense of mistrust in law enforcement, do you understand why some would be hesitant to come forward in a way that in the end might have prevented such an incident?
Jamall Bufford: I absolutely understand that. You know, I think that's why the network that we put together with the CVIT is so important. Because to be frank, I can't tell the young person to put their gun down because I didn't live a life where I needed to have a gun. I've never put my hands on a gun in my life. I've been in all these neighborhoods. I know a lot of these young people. But I did not have to live a lifestyle where I had to have a gun. These young people feel like they need a gun just to walk out of their home sometimes. And so, we need people who have lived that life who can communicate the way that these young people communicate to be able to say, "You know what? There's an alternative." You know, and that's where My Brother's Keeper and other organizations like My Brother's Keeper come in. We may not be the ones that can, you know, diffuse the violence, but we can give them alternatives to occupy their time, occupy their mind. So, there's no idle hands. We don't want that for our young people.
David Fair: It's a mindset. You mentioned that a lot of folks feel like they need to have a gun to feel any degree of safety in our community. What about the CVIT is going to help change that mindset?
Derrick Jackson: I think just having conversations like this. Let's just be real about it. I had an officer say to me, "Well, Derrick, you know, I'm so used to carrying my weapon for safety that I feel uncomfortable without it." I think we're failing our kids when we have young people who feel like they need a weapon to feel safe in the community. So, how might we start to develop strategies and tools and let people know like, this is the reality? We may not like it. It's not an easy conversation, but this is the reality. And I think one other piece that Jamall touched on is really important. We have a network. Law enforcement is at the table with that larger community network. And it's not one or the other. It's both. And so, I can alert the community to people with their hands in the soil that a violent act has happened. They can reach out to families and friends and networks to really address it before it ever evolves into retaliation. That's the only way we can create change here. We solve about 87% of the homicides in Washtenaw County at the sheriff's office.
David Fair: That's far above average, isn't it?
Derrick Jackson: It's way above. The average is roughly 50% across the country. So, we're doing our job on the back end. But now, we're talking about moving upstream and making sure there are community measures to help stop some of this before it ever happens.
David Fair: We continue our conversation with Deputy Derrick Jackson and Jamall Bufford from Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper. It is the first of what will be a two-part conversation in advance of the dedication of a new memorial mural at Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti on Saturday. Have each of you seen the mural?
Derrick Jackson: Absolutely.
Jamall Bufford: Yes.
David Fair: So, Jamall, what was your reaction when you took time to not only just look at it, but let it sink in?
Jamall Bufford: Wow! A ton of emotions. You know, I felt a little joy. And, you know, seeing this project from the beginning to end and having it be a reality, I felt joy for DeShawn for the opportunity he got and how he crushed it and just showed up and showed out--Curtis as well. But I also felt a little sadness and how many names are up there. You know, we had a little back and forth before the mural went up, whether we wanted to put the names on it or not, without getting permission from everyone. And, you know, we kind of just made this. We'll reach out to all the families as best as we can. But in order for it to be real, we needed to put the names up there. And so, that's painful. But we need that to affect the change that we want to see. We need to live with that reality, so that we don't have any more names put up there.
David Fair: And, Officer Jackson, what was your reaction?
Derrick Jackson: I think very similar. You know, I do this work every day, and part of my job is to share these stories. I sit with some of the mothers and grandmothers. I walk around with a book. And every time we lose another person, I put it in the book. So, I know a lot of these stories ahead of time. But to see that massive wall and such a beautiful representation with all those names at once, it's overwhelming. And I'll just tell you. While we were out there for one of the interviews, there were families that were coming up taking pictures with their loved one's name behind them. Someone had their...it looked like a two-year-old toddler. And they just kind of held them up next to the name. So, when you see that, and you get feedback from families that this has given us something we didn't know we needed, it's overwhelming. It's positive. And I think it's, thanks to Deshawn, a physical, visible representation of how we move our community forward after all this loss.
David Fair: As our time together winds down, I have a final question for either one of you to answer, and I think you've both touched on it to a degree. But how do you hope this piece of art impacts the conversation on violence in our community? Because the point that I'm getting from both of you, it's not only to remember, but it's to never forget.
Derrick Jackson: I think, for me, that's a big piece of it. When you talk to families or talk to young people, they would ask the question of, like, it feels like after the funeral, people just forget. My loved one is gone. I'm living with that pain every single day. So, part of it is, like, we want people to remember their names. And when I look at the mural, it is so that those names have not been lost in vain, that their loss and that pain turns into purpose for our community to make a change. So, we never have another family who has to go through that pain again.
David Fair: I think, as a community, sometimes we like to avoid a sense of pain, a sense of grief. So, as we look at it, where, Jamall, do you think the hope is that we, as a community--those who haven't experienced this personally--walk away with that sense that we cannot forget?
Jamall Bufford: Yeah, hopefully, this is a catalyst for change. You know, it is a mechanism for grief and remembering, but, hopefully, it also impacts change. So, like you said, people who haven't really been impacted by gun violence can see the reality of it and hopefully feel like it is part of their duty as part of our community to be involved in helping this change in some manner, some way, shape, or form. We need to wrap our arms around these families. There's so many more families of the young people or not just young people, but people who have lost someone to gun violence, who came up and said, "How can I get my family up there?" So, there's way more names, unfortunately, that didn't make it. So, that lets us know that there is a whole community who is dealing with with this gun violence. So, we need to, you know, galvanize and mobilize and start making a change in our community.
David Fair: And perhaps the self-delusion in all of this, Derrick Jackson, is that we as a community are impacted, whether it has touched our personal family or a group of friends or not. We all are impacted, and we all are lesser than when we lose any young person to gun violence.
Derrick Jackson: I mean, not just to talk about economics, but there's a huge economic impact when someone at a young age is lost in their ability to, you know, dedicate all their skills and talents to our community. But think about it. Even if you've never known someone who's been shot or injured in that way, there's a young person in this community that is lost, and there's a family that loves them. Those family members may be students in the same class with your young person. And how does their behavior with that trauma impact your young person? Maybe it's just a young person who knows of someone who was lost and how vulnerable we feel when we know that loss is right in front of our faces. So, it may be impacting your very own household, and you just don't realize it yet. So, for me, I think it's a very large, complex conversation that we all really need to pay attention to. And I'll leave you with this, David. The idea that, in Washtenaw County, one of the best places to raise a young person in America, for us to have these issues and not address it is just sad and a travesty. And it says something about us if we can't mobilize to address this issue.
David Fair: Well, in the second part of this conversation today, a little later in the show, we're going to explore those impacts. I'd like to thank both of you for being here for part one of the conversation.
Derrick Jackson: Thank you David.
Jamall Bufford: Thank you, David.
David Fair: That is Derrick Jackson from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office and Jamall Bufford from Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper. The unveiling of the mural will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti. Coming up later in the show, we will bring you part two of our anti-violence conversation. You're going to hear from the grandmother of a young man who lost his life. You're going to hear from the artist that created the mural and the young student who designed it and you'll hear why. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
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