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JoJuan Armour: Addressing the Root Causes of Gun Violence

By Asia Nail

Sojourner’s Truth Reporter


Since the killing of George Floyd and America’s ‘racial reckoning,’ everyone has had to stop and examine the soul of our nation as it pertains to systems and democracy in America. Black and Brown communities are cautiously optimistic that we will begin taking some critical steps as we heal the divide and move forward with a sense of equity in this country.


As part of the City of Toledo’s comprehensive approach to address the root causes of gun violence as a public health crisis, JoJuan Armour, a Toledo native and former professional athlete, has been appointed to lead the Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence.


The goal of the new Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence is to connect at risk people to mentoring, employment, healthcare and other supportive services. In addition, the city will also be hiring Violence Interrupters. These interrupters are not law-enforcement personnel, rather they are people within the community who are well known, well respected, and can help to keep the community safe.


JoJuan Armour

Armour brings a wealth of practical experience to the table. After graduating from Central Catholic High School, he was a third team All-American football player at Miami University in 1998 and went on to play in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1999-2002.


Armour previously worked as Quality Assurance Program Manager for the Urban Minority Alcohol and Drug Abuse Outreach Program (UMADAOP) as well as a Defensive Quality Control Coach for the University of Toledo football team. Both of these positions uniquely qualify Armour for his new role. 


When asked how, he shared, “The goal always comes first and I know how to reach goals. In football we have offense, defense, special teams, and many different personalities. The goal is to produce and work together to achieve the common goal of winning the game. Our initiative will operate similarly to how a well-drilled team would work together.”


Toledo recorded 61 murders last year compared to 38 the year before.  This new initiative will initially focus on the Junction, Garfield and Lagrange corridor neighborhoods.  The Junction area is the first community to benefit from the rollout of this program.


There are specific and measurable factors that contribute to gun violence. Many of these issues intersect with gun violence and they ALL must be addressed. “The problem is very comprehensive so we must develop a multi-tiered approach to address all the aspects of gun violence,” said Amour.


How will the gun reduction initiative get community buy-in from both adults and young kids?


“Well, for any effective team, you must model the behavior that you expect to see.  I have had issues and run-ins with the law in the past, but I continue to display my reformed behavior daily.  It shows my community that change is possible,” said Armour. 


Amour emphasizes providing jobs, reentering citizens from incarceration, helping people obtain education, and providing mental health services all produce positive results.


“My expectation is that these individuals will be our biggest advocates within the community,” shared Armour.


Amour and his team are building with a sense of urgency to create the correct relationships to execute their plan. A balance must also take place. Considering the juxtaposition Armour said: “We are working at a steady pace. We just can’t rush our plans to the extent of short changing our efforts.”


Many wonder what the psychological impacts are for youth after watching countless unarmed Black people being killed by police officers? How does one have a sense of life and purpose if they can be killed for no reason?  How do we expect the youth to care and value each other's lives when many of the visuals they see show them that very few people value black life?


The Harvard School of Public health found in a study that we must give children a sense of importance and self purpose. One of the best ways kids can learn to work through feelings of helplessness is to be taught emotional intelligence.


Studies also show when you teach a child emotional intelligence, they are better equipped to deal with issues such as misogyny, homophobia, stereotyping and discrimination in general.


The world will try to feed us all racism and discrimination. Change what you are willing to consume to ensure you can help kids to deal with the depression that can often come from living in a world with systems that were not built to serve them.


Instead, “model the behavior you want to see,” as Armour reminds us. May that behavior also include joy. There is something that happens on a molecular level when black youth, see other black youth live positively on purpose. There is no liberation without joy.


“People are accustomed to solving problems in a linear fashion, but this problem has been allowed to grow so significantly that only a comprehensive plan will work,” explained Armour.


We must all learn how to process our biases in healthy ways. In doing so, police must make the decision that they are no longer going to allow officers to be afraid of the same people they are sworn to serve.


At this point it’s not a divided issue of #blacklivematter vs. #bluelivesmatter. Senseless shootings affect everyone and band-aid models for underserved communities will no longer suffice. Toledo police have been given the opportunity to actively work with the Mayor’s initiative towards addressing solutions where ALL communities can thrive.


The Group Violence Intervention and Cure Violence models are two of the most well-known strategies for reducing gun violence. Both models aim to identify those at greatest risk for violence, to interrupt conflicts before they escalate or continue a cycle of retaliation, and to engage community organizations and members in the strategies.


Both approaches are rooted in the Concentration of Violence Theory, which suggests that a large proportion of violence in any given community is driven by a small number of people.


However, these intervention models accomplish these outcomes in two very different ways.


Research in cities across the country including Chicago, Newark, New Orleans, and Oakland has found that the majority of gun violence is committed by a single digit percentage within those cities' populations. The same is true for Toledo.


Research has also found that there is considerable overlap between those who commit violence and those who become victims of it due to similar geography, social and peer networks, and risky behaviors.



Many local organizations will be positioning themselves in tandem with Armour’s initiative. The Toledo Department of Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Health Association of Toledo, Toledo’s Arts Commission, Frederick Douglass Community Center, Center of Hope Family Services, City Park League, and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Toledo are just a few of the initiative's allies.


“All we can do is put different accountability measures in place, and hope that different communities embrace a multicultural reality where people can have greater appreciation and understanding,” shared Armour.


This model relies on the threat of law enforcement intervention to those who do not heed warnings of severe consequences if gun violence continues. The strategy entails the formation of a cross agency enforcement team including local police, city, state and federal prosecutors, federal law enforcement agencies, and parole and probation departments.


The enforcement team then develops a strategy to influence the behaviors of those individuals and groups by using all possible legal sanctions against them. Some say, those that only advocate for the jail system model have a rather short-sighted singular lens.


Though the GVI model has evolved over the past 20+ years, it seems to be most impactful when its focus is on a specific behavior of gun violence perpetration, rather than criminal behavior or group identity more broadly. Many feel a need for fundamental shifts in this policing strategy, to include more engagement within communities that are already often distrustful of law enforcement.

On the other hand, the Cure Violence model Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz is trying here in Toledo is built on a much different approach to violence deterrents. Originally known as Cease-fire Chicago where it was first applied, this model entails three specific components:


            1.         Interrupting violence transmission by mediating conflicts and limiting the likelihood of retaliation.

            2.         Identifying those at greatest risk for violence involvement and reducing their risk through behavior change and linkage to needed services.

            3.         Changing community norms around violence through community mobilization and anti-violence messaging.


“My biggest attraction to using a public health model is it directly addresses the community and the individuals within it from a holistic viewpoint,” shared Commissioner Armour.


This model employs street outreach workers to develop relationships with the individuals at the highest risk for violence. Outreach workers have often themselves had criminal or violent histories and are well-known in each of the pilot communities.


Workers have also undergone personal transformations, and desire to steer the individuals with whom they work with away from violence based on their personal experience. Being previously engaged in, or familiar with the very behaviors and activities they hope to change, increases the likelihood that the outreach workers will be seen as credible messengers and eventually trustworthy resources.


The model also employs special outreach workers who operate primarily as Violence Interrupters working to identify, mediate, and de-escalate potentially dangerous conflicts that could lead to shootings.


Because of the need to build genuine and trusted relationships with those at greatest risk for violence, in order to mediate conflicts and effectively help provide support, it is critically important that the outreach workers and violence interrupters maintain a clear distinction from law enforcement.


“It’s important to note it is not my role to provide information to the police. Thankfully I’m not tasked with the responsibility of solving crime. My role is to provide mediation, prevention, and resources to the people I respect in the Toledo community,” said Armour.


The initiative is also intended to increase the community’s confidence in general with police to intervene when violence does occur.


There have been important lessons from the implementation and evaluation of both models to reduce gun violence. We can reduce violence by focusing less on any one particular model and instead authentically engaging with communities while allowing for collaborative strategic planning and meaningful feedback.

Armour is meeting individuals where they are while providing wrap around services to address participants needs. They are integrating elements of life coaching, restorative justice, and community empowerment into a support network.


Knowing what we know, we can prioritize approaches that encourage positive police community engagement. Policymakers at every level of government - mayors, city council members, city managers, state governors and legislators, congress people and agency heads, should recognize that public safety starts before and extends far beyond police and emergency services.


Armour is authentically engaging residents while developing public safety plans driven by the change they want to see. These strategies aid in lifestyle change while fostering both trust building and reconciliation between police and communities.


This approach is not only community driven, but community approved. “We will be evaluating all promising interventions for their impact and scalability,” added Commissioner Armour.


We always have to have people willing to intercede in the gap. Whether through prayer, on the ground, in our education system, or in our policies. If you can’t get involved physically, please consider donating your resources to this initiative or a participating organization.


“This is the first of many steps to move forward, working with the community to discuss the root causes, social determinants, and resources to best support the overall initiative,” shared Armour.


Many are changing their focus from listening to PR people on TV, to listening to the people on the ground doing the work. People over policies.


We often look for state legislators or elected officials to solve the challenges in front of us, while oftentimes forgetting grassroots mobilization. With issues like gun violence, ‘on the ground efforts’ are just as important in impacting change as anything else.


“Community Townhall Meeting on Gun Violence: A Conversation with Commissioner JoJuan Armour, The Mayor’s Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence,” is the first in a series of initiatives to get the community involved in strategizing best practices in gun violence prevention.


The town hall-style meeting will be at Scott High School, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 17. Residents may attend in-person or virtually. You can register for this event at Eventbrite.com.



Copyright © 2021 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/15/21 10:38:04 -0400.

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