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Merrick Garland heralds violence prevention through early intervention at St. Louis conference

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, during the Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative Grantee Conference in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks on Thursday at a conference in St. Louis on reducing violent crime.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland extolled violence prevention through early intervention during a Thursday address in St. Louis.

Garland was the keynote speaker at a conference for community groups that receive Department of Justice grants to fight violent crime. His remarks specifically centered around what’s known as violence interruption, in which community activists seek to prevent people from committing crimes before they happen.

Several years ago, St. Louis began funding Cure Violence, a program that trains people who come from areas with high crime rates to intervene in conflicts. One of the goals is to prevent disagreements from escalating to violent crime. It has been credited with helping reduce violence in some neighborhoods.

“The Justice Department is working to advance community violence intervention efforts that reach the highest-risk individuals — those who are both most likely to engage in violence and most likely to be victimized by it,” Garland said. “We are funding programs that interrupt patterns of violence before they occur. And we are supporting initiatives that expand opportunity in communities most burdened by that violence.”

Garland said his agency already provided $100 million in grants to roughly 50 organizations around the country. While none of that money has gone to St. Louis programs, some of those funds have gone to anti-violence efforts in Kansas City. He added that the Department of Justice will soon provide another $100 million under that initiative.

He said these efforts correspond with the Department of Justice’s broader crime-fighting goals.

“We are all here because we believe that everyone in this country deserves to feel safe in their communities,” Garland said. “Every person, on every street, in every neighborhood, deserves to feel protected. Every parent, on every block, deserves to know that their children are safe when they play outside. Fulfilling that promise is our urgent shared challenge.”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones touted some of the city’s efforts to connect people with mental health services. But she also said that St. Louis’ crime-fighting work is made more difficult because Missouri lawmakers are generally hostile to gun-control measures.

“We have to be honest about how lax gun regulations impact our communities and make the work of people in this room more difficult every day,” Jones said.

Jones went on to say that as city policymakers advocate for what’s known as red flag laws that could disarm people who are a threat to themselves or others, “cities must deploy every tool in our collective toolbox to keep people safe from the scourge of gun violence.”

“A new innovative approach is necessary, especially as cities like St. Louis face challenges at other levels of government,” Jones said.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.