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Virtual town hall with Queens congresswoman addresses creative approaches to community safety

Congresswoman AOC and Congressman Jamaal Bowman discuss ways to address mental health crises at monthly town hall. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Queens/Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bronx Rep. Jamaal Bowman hosted a virtual town hall for constituents last week to address public safety approaches in their districts.

Different safety modules, such as the Stand Up to Violence (SUV), were discussed as ways to curb violence besides traditional ways like adding to the police budget. Instead, the representatives are coming up with solutions that address the root causes. 

“The causes of this are mental health-related,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the June 25 town hall. “Increasing policing just means more police show up after an incident happens. We have to make sure we address the actual root causes of violent incidents.”

The Stand Up to Violence program in the Bronx deploys outreach workers into the community after a violent act to reduce the desire to retaliate. This program has seen a 52 percent decrease in the likelihood of program participants being re-injured, according to the lawmakers. 

Bowman said this program is successful because of the workers who give the patients one-on-one attention. 

“It’s important because these are people from the community,” Bowman said. “They are credible– many of them have gone through tough circumstances in their lives, and now they’re trying to do everything in their power to make sure the cycle of violence isn’t perpetuated.”

Both representatives agreed that adding more police resources is not the answer, instead, addressing the mental health concerns should be a priority. 

“We often ask our police officers to do too much,” Bowman said. “Police are trained to respond to violent crime, not often trained to respond to mental health crises or domestic crises. As a result, they go into that situation and things escalate quickly and someone often loses their life. That could have been prevented if we had a mental health response.”

Other programs like the Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence were discussed. That program is implemented in the Bronx, Mt. Vernon and Yonkers. It works to identify at-risk youth to support them and raise awareness about violence and the larger impact it has on the community. 

Two other programs, not yet implemented in New York, are the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) and Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK).

CAHOOTS operates in Oregon to boost mental health responders. In 2019, out of 24,000 calls, only 311 required a police presence. MASK is a group of mothers in Chicago that come together to support the community in violence-prone areas.

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