What’s being done? The effects of gun violence on Grand Rapidians

It is the deadliest time to be a Grand Rapids resident.

According to MLive, 2020 through 2022 were the deadliest years Grand Rapids has seen, with a 72% increase in gun assaults

Additionally, Grand Rapids recorded around 23 homicide cases in 2022, making it the second deadliest year in the last five years, with half the cases being preventable.

In Michigan, around 95 children and teens die from gun violence every year. It is said that youth who are exposed to gun violence can experience short and long-term psychological effects, including anger, withdrawal, PTSD and desensitization to violence. Additionally, the physical and/or emotional development of a child can also be affected if they have lost a parent to gun violence, as it can delay and complicate the grieving process. Looking into adulthood, people who grow up seeing this type of violence in their communities are more prone to also engage in gun violence. 
Grand Rapids’ statistics mirror national trends, as 2021 saw the most deaths related to firearms. A 23% increase from 2019.

We shouldn’t have to wait for the next big story or for protests to break out for change to occur. For something that has taken so many lives, our communities must be proactive, not reactive. 

No more names

Alexander Butler, Jashon Large, Patrick Lyoya, Stacey Majewski, Jakwon Jarrell Mills, William Hannah, Naquie Mitz, Gabriel Hojnacki, Marcell Depriest Ross, Armonie Lee Acklin, Richard Jekel, Charles James, Tony Vaughn, Freddie Lusk, Ja’Juan Webb, Terrell Woodard, Dacarri Brown, Jose Rivas, Tamiqua Wright, Santino Ysasi and Mya Kelly. 

These are all victims of gun violence. 

Many of these cases went unnoticed, however, within these cases are countless lives forever changed. 

Patrick Lyoya’s father, Peter, is just one of those many lives. Patrick was 26 years old when he was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer in April 2022. 
"The pain is so deep," Peter Lyoya told reporters through an interpreter. "The bitterness is so deep to the point that I can even lose my life every time when I think about my son leaving us."

To better understand the community’s relationship with gun violence, the Grand Rapids Urban League did an 80-person focus group in the 49507 and 49503 ZIP codes. 

After reviewing the responses, many of the youth surveyed said they had concerns about being seen as “soft” and how that perception could put them in danger. Similar research from 2018 supports these responses, with many survey participants carrying a gun unlawfully and doing so for protection. 

To address the city’s gun violence, Grand Rapids has called upon the Urban League to lead the city’s Cure Violence campaign. Spectrum Health, the first area partner, has donated $300,000 toward the program and the city is investing $225,000 over three years toward the campaign.
Courtesy of Be Smart Facebook page
Advocacy in action

Gun violence isn't a problem that affects only one demographic.

People of all communities, races and ages are being affected by this deadly phenomenon. Thankfully, there are many people in Grand Rapids who help fight gunviolence. One example is Safe Alliances for Everyone (SAFE), an organization that focuses on providing education to adult communities on how to store their guns safely.

Guns are the number one cause of death for American children, so SAFE  uses the power of education to keep children safe from gun-related incidents. 

Similarly, Be Smart is a parent group that works to promote safe gun storage and has recently reached out to the Grand Rapids school board to promote safe storage to families. 

“As individuals, we are encouraged to see more interest and actions addressing gun violence on the part of elected officials and community organizations,“ says Nancy Dodge, a member of BeSmart. 
Courtesy of Be Smart Facebook page
Courtesy of Be Smart Facebook page
Dodge references the successful BeSmart groups on the state’s east side and says multiple school districts have passed Safe Storage resolutions. 

As far as the future of Be Smart in Grand Rapids, the organization provides presentations on the safe storage of firearms to various groups and individuals, as well as distributes information on the safe storage of firearms at community events.
Dodge says their commitment to Grand Rapids is ongoing. In fact, the BeSmart team is constantly making sure they're pushing the school board to start promoting gun safety. 

“We are encouraging districts in our area, including GRPS, to follow suit.”

To get their message across, individuals from Be Smart attended a Board of Education meeting in an attempt to pass Safe Storage resolutions. Be Smart’s presence, unfortunately, did not impact the Grand Rapids elected officials in the way the group’s members hoped. But its message is still being spread.

“While no area district has yet to move to pass resolutions, we are receiving more and more invitations from schools across the area to present BeSmart educational sessions on safe storage of firearms,” Dodge says.

To learn more about Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here. This series is made possible via underwriting sponsorships from the Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, and Kent ISD

Vanely Bastardo is a junior attending Lee High School with aspirations of becoming a nurse. She’s extremely passionate about topics such as psychology and women's rights. She hopes to one day influence others to use their voices and “never let their fears decide their future.”

Annette G. Vazquez is a junior at Lee High School and a Grand Rapids native. She is interested in social change and uses that to guide her on her path of becoming a program director. She hopes to pursue a Bachelors in Business Administration and incorporate philanthropy into her career to help others in a wide variety of ways. 
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