As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you, Chico. It’s great to be with you and so many CVI leaders who have sacrificed so much to save lives. You are such valued partners to our Administration.
From the start of his Administration, President Biden has been deeply committed to reducing gun violence—not only mass shootings, but the daily gun violence that doesn’t often make headlines. As he says, the equivalent of mass shootings happen every day in too many neighborhoods. Young lives stolen or forever altered by a bullet. Parks and street corners turned into war zones. Communities—disproportionately Black and brown communities—ripped apart. We simply cannot continue like this—and, as groups like READI are demonstrating, we don’t have to.
In March, I had the opportunity to visit Chico and READI Chicago on the West Side and witness READI’s work firsthand. I met program participants receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, the gold standard for treating trauma and other conditions. They told of how READI saved their lives by giving them hope, people who cared, and skills they need. Like the CVI programs I’ve visited in New York and D.C., it was a remarkable demonstration of how an entire community can mobilize to break the cycle of violence. Connecting people who could be caught up in violence to employment. Providing housing and supportive services. Helping reunite formerly incarcerated individuals with their families.
As you all know well, this work is incredibly effective. Community violence intervention has been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60 percent. One study looked at READI participants who had been arrested at least 17 times on average and more than a third of whom had been shot at least once. After READI’s interventions, these men were 80 percent less likely to be arrested for a shooting or homicide. CVI is saving lives and transforming communities. It’s also easing the burden on law enforcement, so they can better focus their resources.
The success of CVI is why it’s so encouraging that this new READI National Center will be offering training and guidance for other communities that want to implement or scale their own community violence intervention efforts. That’s also why I’m proud that President Biden has made CVI a cornerstone of his gun violence prevention strategy. That strategy has three pillars.
First, we’re taking commonsense steps to keep dangerous weapons off our streets and out of the wrong hands. During President Biden’s first 19 months as President, his Administration has taken more executive action to curb gun violence than any president at this point in their presidency. We’re cracking down on “ghost guns” and gun trafficking. We’ve established a zero-tolerance policy for rogue gun dealers. We put out model red flag legislation for states, and are promoting suicide prevention and safe firearm storage.
In July, the Senate confirmed Steve Dettelbach as the first permanent head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in more than seven years, where he is playing a leading role in helping to get guns off our streets. On top of that, after decades of gridlock and in the face of fierce NRA lobbying, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act—the first significant gun violence reduction legislation in 30 years.
Second, we’re urging cities and states to invest in accountable, community-oriented policing, from Albuquerque to Milwaukee. Because we know effective, accountable policing is vital to keeping our communities safe.
Third, we’re investing in crime prevention and a fairer criminal justice system. Cities and states are using American Rescue Plan funds to hire school counselors and social workers, and expand job training and other programs so that our young people pick up a trade instead of a gun.
Central to our Administration’s crime prevention efforts is an unprecedented and innovative focus on community violence intervention. In June of 2021, we established a new CVI Collaborative, bringing together 16 jurisdictions—from Baton Rouge to Baltimore—to build trust, engage communities, and share creative strategies that can be scaled nationwide. We’ve made changes to more than two dozen existing federal programs to prioritize CVI and get federal funds out into communities. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for instance, has encouraged communities to use Community Development Block Grants to support CVI, while the Centers for Disease Control is funding research on how to prevent burnout among CVI workers.
As part of his call for cities and states to leverage some of the $350 billion in American Rescue Plan state and local funding to make their communities safer, President Biden has urged cities and states to invest in community violence intervention. Collectively, communities have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to CVI strategies. Here in Washington D.C., the city is creating a training academy and certification system to help professionalize violence interrupters, and has deployed 50 new violence interrupters in two dozen neighborhoods. Los Angeles has invested over $89 million towards public safety and violence prevention, including expanding systems of care, creating jobs, and addressing trauma. I encourage everyone to push your own communities: if you’re already investing in violence intervention, see if you can do even more. If you haven’t yet, do it now. Let’s use these dollars to save lives.
We also need Congress to do more. President Biden fought for—and won—$50 million in new federal funding exclusively for community violence interventions. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act devotes another $250 million to CVI over 5 years. That’s $300 million for the first-ever federal funding stream solely dedicated to CVI. No longer will you have to compete with other priorities to have a chance at federal funding.
But, it’s not enough. In the coming years, we must double down on our progress. The President’s 2023 budget and his Safer America Plan call on Congress to fund $5 billion over 10 years for CVI in discretionary and mandatory resources, with $500 million for violence intervention in 2023, split equally between DOJ and HHS. Because gun violence is about public safety and public health.
The reality is when more than 320 Americans are shot each day—and over 100 of them killed—none of us can rest. We must continue to push for more resources for violence prevention and intervention. We must continue pressing Congress to ban assault weapons and expand background checks. We must continue doing everything in our power to advance the lifesaving and heroic work of preventing the bloodshed that stains our communities and our consciences.
Today, on the streets of St. Louis, a violence interrupter is putting herself in the middle of a dispute to put her community on a better path. In a hospital in Memphis, there’s a CVI worker helping a shooting victim seek out employment rather than retaliation. There’s a classroom in Chicago where a cognitive behavioral therapist is helping a young man work through trauma. Some of these dedicated workers will succeed. Some of them won’t. Some of them, tragically, will lose their own lives trying to save others.
These unsung heroes deserve our profound gratitude and respect—and the good pay, benefits, and support they need. They demand our sustained investment. They require our urgent, unceasing action. By harnessing the passion and purpose in this room, I know we can help defuse violence before it rips through our communities, and make our streets safer and more vibrant for all. Thank you very much.