As Columbus approaches a record-rate of homicides in 2020, city leaders are stepping up efforts to stop the violence. So far this year, 132 people have died due to violence. The city is quickly approaching 2017 when a record 143 people died due to homicides.
“What we’re seeing today is a very different type of violence,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said at a downtown news conference on Thursday. “You’ve heard me share with you before that the average age of homicide victim last year was 37. This year it is 24. This type of violence requires a different type of approach.”
The city plans to launch 100 community centers as safe places where children can learn. It's also dedicating $625,000 of federal Cares Act money to youth and family empowerment grants for job and emotional support programs during the pandemic.
Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin pointed out at the press conference that nearly 500 COVID-19 deaths in Columbus and most homicide victims in 2020 are Black.
“I’m upset. I’m angry,” Hardin says. "Yes, as council president, but as much so as a resident, as a Black man, as a person who was born and raised here. As the mayor said, this is our home.”
Columbus Division of Police Commander Smith Weir explained during the press conference that officers have been working to identify at-risk youth and adults who have either been victims or suspects in a crime.
They have referred seven people for on-going counseling with social workers. Wier also said the department is working with other law enforcement agencies to increase penalties for certain criminal offenses such as gun possession.
Columbus is also paying $80,000 for a six-month study to examine who is behind the violence.
“COVID-19 is not going away,” Ginther says. “This economic crisis is not going away. And so we as a community have to decide are our kids worth fighting for. Is this quality of life worth fighting for? And all of us have a role to play in making this city safer.”