ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Community activists are speaking out about their thoughts on the newly announced federal task force to combat gun violence in Rochester.
The VIPER task force, which stands for the Violence Prevention and Elimination Response, promises an enhanced and proactive look at gun violence in the community. US Attorney James Kennedy announced the force Wednesday.
Rochester has seen more than 200 shootings this year and 38 homicides, and Kennedy said over the past three years, there has been a 150 percent increase in violent crimes in Rochester.
City activist Antonia Wynter was at Wednesday’s task force announcement. She says because of the spike in violence, she is ready to give the new task force a chance.
“It’s traumatic, it’s unsettling, it’s scary, so I understand that they want to bring these people in, but we just really need to work together because nobody wants to see shootings,” Wynter said.
Wynter said her and other city activists want to stress that they want to be part of the conversation. She said it’s important law enforcement officials converse with those who live in Rochester.
“You have a lot of people that come in with data and you have people that are, not necessarily bad, but they are out of touch,” Wynter said. “If you are not in our community, you may not understand the things that we understand, you don’t see the things that we see, so that’s just, like I said, giving you information that will assist the law enforcement in the reduction and solving some of the issues.”
Wynter also says she wants officials to know they don’t want to be over-policed because some of the community is struggling to maintain good relationships with local law enforcement agencies.
She also emphasized the important of proactive, community-based policing.
“Guns themselves are not the problem, it’s the mindset of the person who has the gun in their hand that is problematic,” Wynter said.
Free the People ROC, a local Black Lives Matter group, released the following statement denouncing the federal task force Wednesday:
“Federal law enforcement are using the same strategies that destroyed Black and brown communities, ruined lives, and created the largest prison population in the world. We can’t punish our way to safety. Public safety and an end to the violence demands real community investment, violence interruption, and mental health and substance use services. Stop-and-frisk, pretextual stops, and other forms of ‘proactive’ policing openly discriminate against Black men and open the door for more devastating police violence.
We urge our city leaders to invest in actual solutions by bringing in Advance Peace, a proven community-based violence interruption program that doesn’t rely on policing and punishment to prevent violence. Unlike the proposed federal task force, Advance Peace has a track record of decreasing gun violence in communities like ours. It’s time to act.”
The VIPER task force is a 60-day program that will focus on reducing gun violence by enhancing proactive policing, while working with agencies like the ATF, FBI and US Marshalls to find gun offenders and those who buy and sell guns.
All local gun charges will also be subject to review by state and federal prosecutors on a daily basis.
Federal officials plan to hold an open meeting with the public that will be scheduled in the coming days. After 60 days, officials say they are going to look at the results of this task force and reassess.