CINCINNATI - There were renewed calls Friday to restore full funding for CIRV – the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence.
One came from the mother of a homicide victim, who claims her son sought out CIRV street advocates when he was released from prison, only to find the office door locked and the phones turned off.
Cincinnati City Councilmember Cecil Thomas joined the chorus along with Rev. Peterson Mingo, a Walnut Hills Pastor and CIRV volunteer.
“The CIRV program is very, very essential to the City of Cincinnati and all the inner-city neighborhoods and surrounding areas,” Rev. Mingo said. “There are a lot of people out there right now who are losing hope.”
CIRV received $861,000 from the city in 2010, but budget cutting reduced that to $184,000 for 2011. The number of street advocates dropped from 16 to five.
Donelle Johnson was gunned down on May 10 at Liberty and John Streets in the West End, 34 days after he’d been released from Lebanon Correctional Institution after serving time on a robbery charge.
His Mother, Alicia, said her son left the penitentiary with the intent of turning his life around.
“They say he was walking down the street minding his own business and somebody tried to rob him and just point blank shot my son,” she said. “That’s the crime – not his felonies. That was his past -- this was his future.”
Rev. Mingo was among a number of CIRV participants who visited Johnson in prison to urge him to change his ways. It appears the visit had a major impact on the East Price Hill man.
“He had shown his mother our business cards and told her that this time things were going to be different,” Rev. Mingo said. “This time he was ready to turn his life around and he was making steps in that direction.”
That included visiting the CIRV offices on West Elder Street in the Over-the-Rhine. However, when Johnson visited, the door was locked and the lights were off. The connection was missed in-person and on the phone.
“Our phones – the ones that we had before – the numbers that I had given him – those phones were off,” said Rev. Mingo. “We had no way of connecting us.”
It wasn’t that long before Johnson became a homicide statistic – at the time the 28th murder in Cincinnati for 2011.
“It’s a sad situation all around because he was reaching out to try and get help. He wasn’t out there trying to do things on the streets,” said Rev. Mingo. “Donelle was trying to turn his life around. He had made a decision, but unfortunately we weren’t there to assist him.”
Thomas called the missed connection a tragedy.
“If we’re ever going to reach these individuals and really have the impact, it’s going to take a concerted effort of the advocacy group, CIRV, to address this problem,” he said. “Law enforcement has already said they can’t do it by themselves. They need the community and CIRV working together with them to solve this problem.”
When the streetcar issue came up for a decision before Cincinnati City Council, Thomas cast the fifth vote in favor of the project. Now, he says he might use that as leverage to get other councilmembers to find funds for CIRV.
CIRV Program Director Reggie Brazzile said he hopes more funds can mean more street workers, but in the meantime he’s doing all he can with the available resources. He, like Thomas, said the community has to step up to the plate.
“The city needs to get up and get in the streets and help us do some of this work,” Brazzile said. “Take control of their families. Know where these young kids are late at night. Push non-violence. There are other ways to solve your problem.”
If things stay the same, Brazzile said he fears the homicide rate could increase.
“It will be like Beirut,” he said. “You’ll see more bloodshed on these streets until the community stands up and says enough is enough.”
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