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Mollie Ward calls for creation of a Bloomington gun violence commission

six guns
Normal Police Deptartment

A Bloomington City Council member is calling for the formation of a special commission to address gun violence in the community.

Mollie Ward made the request public on the fourth anniversary of the shootings in Parkland, Florida; a couple days after the second gun killing in Bloomington this year; and as a murder trial began in the death of Trevonte Kirkwood shot three years ago in Bloomington. But Ward said the idea had been building for a long time.

"This has really been a yearslong conversation that started when I was appointed to city council. This grew out of a conversation that I had with city manager, Tim Gleason. He said, I thought very wisely, that there's not a single solution, that it's going to take an approach from multiple directions. And then this past summer I began to pull together the idea for a special commission," said Ward.

She noted Kirkwood was also a neighbor who lived three blocks away.

There are some initiatives functioning in the community to try to reduce gun violence through safety efforts, police interdiction of weapons, and a smorgasbord of efforts to divert youth at risk for entering a violent life to more safe avenues by the schools, Project Oz, several churches, the Boys and Girls Club, and others. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council at the regional and county levels also look at those issues.

Ward said a commission could add to the options and would serve several purposes.

"I see it as as a way for the city itself, to say this is an issue that is worth paying attention to. And I think when the city government makes that kind of a statement, that in and of itself, helps to make things happen. Another point is that I'm not sure that we as a city know, what we should be focusing our efforts on. And if we as a city are going to try to support the various efforts that are happening out there, we've got to know what the source of the gun violence is. We've got to know what what the root causes are, what's prompting it, and then move forward with recommendations," said Ward.

Law enforcement officials have noted that a substantial portion of gun violence in Bloomington-Normal comes from a small number of interrelated groups or individuals that sometimes target each other.

"It may well be the reality. But I think it's time for us to stop sort of going off into separate directions, and instead have a single comprehensive effort that we as a community have buy into," said Ward.

She said having that comprehensive effort come from the city instead of some other stakeholder serves a purpose.

"We have the resources and the expertise that we can pull together to make things happen, that sometimes private institutions and groups don't have. It's got to take buy-in from everybody. And that includes city government, it also includes other other stakeholders, and that's what I envisioned for this special commission, that, that it would be made up of people from various aspects of our community," said Ward.

Ward noted the city has other commissions that indicate the municipality places importance on certain issues, historic preservation, police and community relations, technology, and so on.

The city of Hartford, Connecticut, funds a violence mediation group to convince gangs and other groups prone to violence to reduce conflict. Ward said though she had not been aware of it, that sounded like an interesting idea.

"I know in our own community, we've got got some people doing some really wonderful work with restorative practices and restorative justice. I'm hesitant to start offering solutions before we know the scope of the problem. And that's, that's what I'm really hoping for from this commission is that they will take the time to sit down and look at the data, look at the patterns begin to identify what patterns and trends there are....and see what what the very smart creative people in our community can come up with, to to address this," said Ward.

Ward did not say whether she believes she has a majority of the council on board the proposal, but thinks quite a few members are supportive.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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