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Summit aims to strengthen Rochester’s violence prevention efforts 

click to enlarge Commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services Daniele Lyman-Torres.

PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI

Commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services Daniele Lyman-Torres.

Throughout 2021, Rochester has experienced a precipitous rise in shootings and murders, violence that has generated much discussion and which has left the city in search of answers.

There are no easy answers or solutions to the complex issue of violence in Rochester, or to the increase in violence happening across the country. But at City Hall, a consensus was reached that the first step toward addressing the problem was to bring together the many grassroots community groups already working on the ground to prevent violence or intervene in simmering conflicts.

In May, Mayor Lovely Warren announced that the Office of Neighborhood Safety would serve as the hub for those efforts. On Thursday, a violence prevention summit at the Joseph A. Floreano Convention Center will bring community groups together with the goal of addressing Rochester’s swelling violent crime.

Kiah Nyame will serve as the inaugural coordinator of the office. Nyame is the founder of Ujima Consulting and Counseling, a group aimed at assisting at-risk youth and offering anti-racism training.

The summit will feature panelists including Vice President of the Rochester City Council Willie Lightfoot and Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition’s Antoine Towers, presentations from Pathways to Peace’s Melvin Cross and Khaalid Muttaqi of Advance Peace, a California-based nonprofit that works to reduce gun violence. The keynote speech will be delivered by Advance Peace CEO DeVone Boggan.

“The purpose of that summit is to start listening to solutions,” said Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services, which houses the Office of Neighborhood Safety. “Very similarly to the way we were listening to solutions from across the country when we were talking about (mental health) crisis intervention. We didn’t prescribe that we had all the answers, we wanted to hear how other people had addressed things.”

So far in 2021, there have been 40 homicides in Rochester, of which 27 were fatally shot, according to data from the Rochester Police Department. A total of 230 people have been shot in 2021.

Earlier this month, the Violence Prevention and Elimination Response (ViPER) task force was developed, bringing together varying federal bureaus with local law enforcement agencies with the promise that the office will more aggressively prosecute gun crimes and better engage the community.

As of Friday, ViPER had made 138 arrests and seized 22 guns in Rochester and Buffalo.

Cross, of Pathways, a group which provides youth intervention by showing up at crime scenes, wakes, and funerals, described that development as “both encouraging and discouraging.”

“It’s encouraging to know that we have the support, it’s discouraging to know that it’s gotten so bad that the local agencies aren’t able to get to the bottom of everything,” Cross said.

The summit intends to bring together community voices to best develop a plan to address Rochester’s violence. But it’s not the only effort that’s seeking to do so — it won’t even be the only violence prevention summit this week. On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office held a summit seeking to get input from the community on violence-reduction tactics moving forward.

Lyman-Torres said she is hopeful that, if all of the grassroot groups in Rochester are working in tandem, a difference can be made on the streets. Although organizations like Pathways to Peace have existed for decades, she says there has been stagnation and the groups are ripe for real support.

“We can’t just sit around and think ‘Oh, that would never work,’ and not do anything,” Lyman-Torres said. “One of the reasons that they haven’t worked, in the sense of staving off what’s happening now, is because we really haven’t invested heavily enough into it.”

Part of the Office of Neighborhood Safety’s initial work will be allocating funds to programs that could help better engage the community and intervene on violence. Rochester will use $202 million, part of the city’s American Rescue Plan allocation, to support the office.

Cross, who leads a 16-person team at Pathways, is hopeful that good work can be done if the community comes together.

“We always have to have hope,” Cross said. “If we don’t have hope, we don’t have anything.”

The violence prevention summit will run from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday. Residents can sign up to attend and offer their thoughts here.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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