GVI roundtable talks gun violence, snitching and community culture

Click here to watch highlights from Public Media Network's gun violence roundtable discussion with Group Violence Intervention.

Kalamazoo saw 13 gun-related homicides, 75 non-fatal shootings, and 375 assaults with firearms in 2020. These numbers have only increased in 2021. Weekly crime statistics from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety show more assaults with firearms in 2021 than were recorded this time last year.


This is part of an ongoing trend, as firearm assualts have increased over 400 percent in Kalamazoo over the last 10 years.


Numbers, however, are easily forgotten. Numbers fail to explain the truth of communities affected by gun violence. 


Numbers don't explain why victims and perpetrators of these crimes are getting younger and younger. On July 25, 2021, a 16-year-old girl was killed in Kalamazoo. On June 26, 2021, a 9-year-old boy was shot and killed in Kalamazoo.


At the end of August, Public Media Network partnered with Group Violence Intervention to hold a gun violence roundtable discussion. Six community members, central to the issue, were brought together to talk about the root of the problem, and where the answers lie. 


Below is a highlight video from our hour-long discussion, plus a written summary of main points. Click here to watch the full discussion

Our video above features Mike Wilder, Alejandro Rodriguez, Dominica Sims, Terrell, Tony Anderson, Ki Cash, and PMN Journalist Raine Kuch. 



Gun Violence has been allowed to go unchecked in Kalamazoo, because the culture behind snitching has kept most witnesses silent, says Mike Wilder.


"I was always taught that a snitch is a person who sells drugs or commits crimes with people, then gets caught and don't wanna do their time and tell on other people," Wilder said. 


According to Wilder, this term has mutated into something completely different. Any bystander to a crime is now considered a snitch if they report what they see to the athorities. People in the community are taught that reporting a crime is not acceptable.


"That is fueling gun violence, because now, guys can shoot with no masks on and know that everybody that saw him aint gonna say nothing," said Wilder.


This phenomina is making it harder for cops to issue arrests. According to Wilder, authorities know who shot the 16-year-old girl in Kalamazoo, but they lack evidence from eye witnesses.


The Game is Flipped

Participants of the roundtable agreed that gun violence looks different today than it did years ago. These changes mean younger participants, different power dynamics, and a lower moral code.


"Now adays the game is flipped. You got youngins' providing old schools with (guns)," said Alejandro Rodriguez.


An ongoing trend we are seeing in Kalamazoo is that participants of gun violence are getting younger and younger. Wilder says that he sees as young as 12 and 13-year olds with guns.


These younger players in the community are bringing a different moral code to the table, Rodriquez says.


"Theres no order. Before, if you had a beef with somebody, it was with that person. Now adays, you go shoot the grandma or the uncle, just because you can't get to homie," Rodriguez said.


Dominica Sims says that young people are using guns to send messages to each other. Sometimes these messages will include violence towards a family member, unlike what she saw when she was involved in gun violence before her incarceration.


"When I was growing up, they handled stuff in the streets... it was rare that you heard of an innocent kid getting killed," said Sims. 

Numb to the Problem

An innocent 9-year-old and 16-year-old have been killed this year due to gun violence, and Sims says the community is not mad about it.


Wilder explains that this is because the community is numb to gun violence.


"Its so accepted in our community... we are so traumatized by it," Wilder said.


Wilder says that as kids, communities affected by gun violence become accustomed to people dying from gun violence. Kids become traumatized by it, and are not given the resources or support to overcome it.


Rodriguez says that minority communities affected by gun violence become products of their environment.


"I ain't seen my father in 21 years, the only man I did know was posted on the block hustling," Rodriguez said. "I learned how to cook crack, sell heroin; I was already addicted to cocaine by the time I was 11 years old, because that's what a man was to me at that time." 


KI says Black people, people of color have been beaten down for so long, they don't believe in themselves anymore.


"You only can step on a culture for so long and for so hard before they start disbelieving in themselves," KI said.


Wilder says that Black men have grown to accept the idea that they might end up in prison one day. Black people are over 5 times more likely to go to prison than white people, according to the NAACP. Wilder suggests that breaking this pattern, involves finding role models for Black children.


"I bet you there is more Black men in America that have not gone to prison than who have," Wilder said.


Providing young Black men with positive role models like this, Sims says, could be part of the solution to solving gun violence in the Kalamazoo Community.