New Jersey AG cuts funding to community violence prevention groups, but has plenty of cash to target gun companies

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

New Jersey Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s office is telling local violence prevention groups that grants they’ve received from the state in recent years will be cut due to a lack of funds, though his office apparently has the money to spend on a new office designed to target the firearms industry.

The community violence intervention programs endangered by the AG’s move don’t involve the type of heavy-handed gun prohibitions favored by New Jersey Democrats. Instead, they focus exclusively on individuals who wind up at a local hospital with gunshot wounds.  Liza Chowdhury, who heads the Paterson Healing Collective, says violent crime rates are likely to rise if programs like hers are forced to shut down or scale back their outreach.

Chowdhury, who said for months she’d been asking both the state and St. Joseph’s whether more funding was coming, said she felt blindsided when she got the email letting her know it wouldn’t. Now, Chowdhury said she and others, who lead anti-gun violence groups like hers, are left scrambling to salvage what they’ve built over the last couple of years.

Without funding, she said “there’s no way” she and her staff can continue to help gunshot victims and their families. Chowdhury said she’s hopeful the partner hospitals will continue to fund the important work she and many others are doing to make New Jersey communities safer. And Chowdhury said in the meantime, she’ll continue “exhausting every avenue,” like additional grants and fundraising, to secure the money the group needs to “keep our doors open.”

Chowdhury said since October 2020, the nonprofit has helped more than 130 gunshot victims, providing them with a range of services including case management, home visits, therapy, and assistance obtaining state compensation funds for victims.

There’s no doubt the group’s partnership with the hospital has been “extremely successful” in helping “to stop the cycle of violence,” said Sheri Hensley, director of public relations and marketing at St. Joseph’s Health.

Of 103 victims of violence the hospital engaged with in a one-year period— more than 90% Black males with an average age of 25 —only 1% were re-injured within a year of enrollment and only 4% were later arrested upon receiving services, she said.

This program appears to be fairly successful, but according to Platkin’s office, the grant money that’s been helping to keep these programs afloat just isn’t there.

In a July 21 email sent to community groups and hospitals providing the services, an official at the state Attorney General’s office wrote that the state could not “continue to fund the [Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs.]” The person noted the “limited amount of [Victims of Crime Act] funds available” as the reason for the change, and also informed the groups that “the next competitive cycle for non-profit victim service providers” would begin in September 2023.

… The funding for the programs was part of an $93 million in VOCA funding received in fiscal year 2018, the state said. However, in the years that followed, the funding has steadily decreased to $60.4 million in 2019, $44.4 million in 2020 and $25.2 million in 2021.

The money was for a two-year term and at the end of that, a third year of funding from the state was made available through September 2022, the Attorney General’s Office said.

Even though the AG’s office previously talked about the importance of developing and strengthening a “community-based approach to public safety,” community activists say that Platkin’s announcement is devastating to their efforts to reduce crime and violence in their cities.

Solomon Middleton Williams, the deputy director of NCST, said the organization has provided services to over 500 crime survivors through the hospital program since 2018. He said only two have been revictimized. “This program is working,” he said.

Middleton Williams said having intervention workers at a victim’s bedside in the hospital is “aimed to reduce retaliation,” which he said is the key to driving crime numbers down in Newark, as well as across the state.

The Newark native said NCST is currently serving over 200 clients, but warned those victims’ needs could go unaddressed without this funding. Like the other groups, Middleton Williams’ group would be forced to lay off employees.

Without the help, gunshot victims “could say, ‘F the system. They failed me once again,’” said Middleton Williams. “And could return to violence in a harmful way. What we are trying to do is reduce harm in the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey. What this does, by pulling the funding, it perpetuates violence within our community.”

He said the discontinuation of funding shows “a lack of understanding by the (Attorney General) and the governor,” on the positive impact the programs are having.

Well, Platkin apparently has different priorities. While these lifesaving programs that don’t revolve around criminalizing the right to keep and bear arms are now on the chopping block, the acting Attorney General recently announced a brand new office that will be operating under his supervision; one aimed squarely at targeting firearms manufacturers and not trigger-pullers.

SAFE’s work will be distinct from but supplement the Department’s ongoing – and successful – efforts to use the ­state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) to stop out-of-state gun dealers from selling illegal firearm products into New Jersey over the internet.  In March 2022, Acting Attorney General Platkin announced that the State had obtained a $175,000 judgment against Florida gun vendor 22Mods4All for violating the CFA by advertising and selling illegal large-capacity magazines (LCMs) to New Jersey consumers online.  The judgment also permanently barred 22Mods4All from future online sales of LCMs here.  A second gun vendor named in that suit – Florida-based Elite Aluminum – agreed to pay a $150,000 civil penalty and stop selling LCMs in New Jersey.

But the public nuisance lawsuits will provide even more robust enforcement tools, by allowing the Department to hold firearms manufacturers and retail dealers accountable for endangering the safety and health of New Jersey residents through the sale, manufacture, distribution, or marketing of lethal, but nonetheless legal, firearms.

Plenty of money to hire attorneys and fund junk lawsuits aimed at shutting down the firearms industry, but the state of New Jersey is tapped out when it comes to the type of evidence-based efforts that are saving lives without imposing new restrictions on the Second Amendment rights of residents. Based on their own actions it sure seems that the real goal of anti-gun politicians like Matthew Platkin and Gov. Phil Murphy is to curtail legal gun ownership, not to reduce violent crime. I believe that many of these gun control efforts are going to be undone by judges, but while these gun prohibitionists are wasting time and energy putting them on the books and defending them in court, lives that could have been saved are going to be lost in places like Paterson, Camden, Trenton, and Jersey City. Actions have consequences, and the anti-2A actions of New Jersey politicians are going to lead to grim results in communities already hit hard by violent criminals willfully ignoring the many gun control laws that are already on the books.