With 8 homicides in 2 months, Lansing leaders and residents seek solutions


At 14, Everett High School freshman Xavier McKissic already knows two peers killed by guns.

The first was on May 4, when 14-year-old Jaquez Moye-Young was fatally shot in north Lansing. The second was early Monday morning, when 17-year-old Kylete Owens was killed and six youths ages 15 to 20 were wounded in a riverfront shooting just outside of Lansing Shuffle.

Xavier McKissic
Xavier McKissic
“From first-hand experience, I see a lot of students and the youth in general that don't have an understanding of the value of life or how devastating death is,” McKissic texted City Pulse. “This is why we see young people that have access to firearms acting reckless, waving guns on social media or shooting people unprovoked.”

They were the city’s fifth and eighth homicides this year, all of which have occurred since April. To curb the devastating trend, Lansing’s City Council approved a new Office of Neighborhood Safety on May 20. Now funded for at least one year at $175,000, the office will include a full-time staff member who will work exclusively on violence prevention and outreach.

At-large Council member Peter Spadafore presented the idea as a budget amendment last week. He said the goal was to create an office to coordinate efforts with partner organizations such as Advance Peace and Lansing 360.

“We bought in those groups, but we don't have a city resource that works on the proactive and victim services side of things. So, when I heard a public comment about the idea of this office , I latched onto it,” Spadafore said. 

The city has two avenues to fund it. If Michigan legislators approve a new state revenue-sharing fund this summer, the city would receive up to $3.5 million for public safety expenditures, $175,000 of which would be used to for the new office. It would also pay to create 15 new police positions.

If lawmakers reject it, the city will tap into its general funds to keep the office going for one year, after which “we'd have to figure out a way to sustain that over the future,” Spadafore said. 

The legislature will make that decision by the end of July, at the latest, and Spadafore expressed optimism about its chances.

Ryan Bates, director of End Gun Violence Michigan, applauded the move. He said he’s unaware of an office of this sort elsewhere in Michigan, though he knew of similar concepts in Seattle and various California cities.

“In general, taking a holistic approach to violence prevention is a good thing that helps keep communities safer,” he said. “Typically, law enforcement only deals with crimes or shootings after they've happened, but there are a number of approaches you can look at to prevent these things from happening in the first place.”

The office will seek to apply some of these approaches, which would include community violence intervention, a method which Bates said “engages the relatively small number of habitual violent offenders through dialogue to reroute them into more positive action or hospital-based intervention.”

Fourth Ward Council member Brian Jackson was the only one to vote against the idea.

“The people who are committing gun violence don’t know anything about the city departments. Their reality is trying to make and find opportunities. We have HRCS,” he said, referring to the Human Relations and Community Services Department, “we have Advance Peace, and I just don’t know if adding a department is going to help change anybody’s realities on the ground.”

Instead, Jackson said the city should instead focus on addressing the root causes of crime, which he said stem from “the stress of poverty and lack of legitimate opportunity.”

“If we want to look at reducing crime and violence, the indicators, as far as I’m aware, are food and housing insecurity, which is determined by our homeless number. If we get that down, that’s one tick,” Jackson said.  Another would come from providing greater mental health and drug and alcohol abuse resources, he added.

At-Large Council member Trini Pehlivanoglu said that while she supported working with Advance Peace and Lansing 360, she also believed a centralized city-funded office will bolster those efforts.

“During a time when it’s getting warm out and we’re getting an uptick in criminal activity all around, we need all hands on deck,” Pehlivanoglu said. “We’re talking about holistic solutions here, and I think it’s a good idea to explore what this city can do to help.”

 Mayor Andy Schor’s administration is already scouting candidates for the position. The $175,000 would cover hiring that employee with benefits.

“After that, they're going to help us figure out if there are ways to grow the office, if we need to go find grant funding, if we can partner with other agencies like the county or Michigan State Police, those types of things,” Spadafore explained.

Tiffany Lemieux-McKissic, Xavier McKissic’s mother, said she’s “hopeful” the new office will help curb the carnage, though she urged city leaders to ensure the effort is “authentic and not performative.”

“This isn't the problem, this is a symptom,” she said. “Part of what’s missing is that kids don’t have many positive things to do after school. They’ve been taking away basketball hoops, and we haven’t added many positive community-building efforts in their place.”

“These initiatives will not make a difference until we build community,” she added. “We see all the violence, but the problem begins in a lack of community connection and a lack of valuing self and life. It’s a systemic issue that can't just be addressed with putting a Band-Aid on a head trauma. We need to create more positive outlets before these kids resort to violence.”


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