House majority leader Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, left. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert is rolling out legislation that would help cities in the Commonwealth address gang violence by targeting the most violent offenders, but so far Democrats in the state seem indifferent or opposed to the measure. As the Roanoke Times explains, Gilbert’s bill provides grant money to cities so they can utilize existing and effective programs called Project Ceasefire and Project Exit to identify the most violent gang members in their city and give them a choice: stop shooting and we’ll help you. Keep shooting and we’ll stop you.
The U.S. Department of Justice has labeled it as effective in reducing gun violence and gives it its highest rating. Studies consistently rate the method as effective.
Gilbert introduced the legislation as part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s call for lawmakers to address gun violence following the mass shooting at Virginia Beach. The governor, a Democrat, called a special session of the General Assembly in July to take up measures on the issue. The Republican-controlled legislature adjourned after just 90 minutes and scheduled to reconvene after the November election. It handed the legislation over to the Virginia State Crime Commission, which will meet Aug. 19 to review proposals, including Gilbert’s idea.
As the paper notes, Project Ceasefire has been extremely successful where it’s been implemented, though some cities have seen violent crime rates increase after the programs ended locally. It’s a non-partisan solution that works, but so far no Virginia Democrat has signed on. In fact, most of them don’t even want to talk about it.
“Frankly, without those urban legislators who can hold people’s feet to the fire in areas they represent, it’s much less likely to be effective,” Gilbert said. “We need buy-in from everybody to make sure it works.”
Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, pointed to Gilbert’s words in a recent op-ed in which he described Ceasefire as “law enforcement comes into the neighborhood and uses any and all legal ‘levers’ to send a message.”
“This is not the evidence-based system that treats violence as a health crisis,” said Rasoul, a member of the black caucus.
With all due respect to Del. Rasoul, he’s wrong. Project Ceasefire is absolutely evidence-based. Does it treat violence as a “health crisis?” Maybe not, but it does treat gang violence as a crisis and works to address the violence at the individual level. As the police chief in Roanoke pointed out, violent crime in his city is driven by a relative handful of individuals.
In areas experiencing gun violence , it’s mostly concentrated among a small number of people. Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones said a handful of people are responsible for the city’s shootings. And police know who they are.
Jones characterized many of the shootings as a result of “ongoing beefs” that can seem trivial.
“We’ll follow up with folks after a shooting, and it’ll be over a boyfriend or girlfriend, or some debt that is owed, or sometimes it’s been as simple as someone bumping into someone on the dance floor,” Jones said.
If Del. Rasoul wants to treat violence as a health crisis, perhaps this analogy might help. The few individuals who are driving violence are a cancer in their community. Rather than blast the community with laws aimed at everyone in the hopes of ensnaring criminals alongside the law-abiding, Project Ceasefire provides targeted treatment to those cancer cells. It’s the difference between chemotherapy poisoning the entire body in hopes of poisoning the cancer cells, and CAR-T therapy, which targets the cancerous cells directly without causing additional harm to healthy organs and cells.
There’s absolutely no reason why Del. Gilbert’s legislation shouldn’t have the support of every member of the Virginia legislature, so it’s distressing to see the proposal met with indifference or hostility from Democrats. I hope Gilbert is able to speak to Del. Rasoul about his concerns, and I hope Del. Rasoul is willing to listen to how the program actually works and to examine the successes it’s achieved around the country.