GovernmentThe White Plains Examiner

Westchester Launches Gun Violence Prevention Effort Aimed at Youths

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Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced the formation of a gun violence prevention task force last week with County Legislator Shanae Williams.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer signed an executive order last week that created a task force that will explore and coordinate strategies to fight gun violence in the county.

Proposed by County Legislator Shanae Williams (D-Yonkers), the 21-member Westchester County Gun Violence Prevention Task Force will consist of a wide range of community stakeholders and organizations that will address what leads young people to engage in gun violence, work with law enforcement agencies, develop prevention and intervention strategies and push for resources to accomplish its goals.

Williams called the scourge of gun violence “a public health crisis” that requires communities to take action even if the problem in Westchester is relatively mild.

“Here in Westchester, even though our gun violence rates are among the lowest in the region, our position as New York City’s neighbors means that we hold ourselves accountable for being part of the solution,” said Williams, who witnessed a gun incident outside her home in 2020.

“This task force will take a holistic approach to gun violence by fostering cooperation across all agencies and levels of government, including county, town, village, cities and law enforcement agencies.

Latimer’s order will see both his office and the Board of Legislators appoint the members of the group, which will include a wide cross section of people of different backgrounds, cultures, geography within the county and expertise, including law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, clergy, schools and other stakeholders.

He said formation of the task force will address the challenge directly before it becomes a larger problem in Westchester. In addition to identifying strategies and competing for funds, county lawmakers could also propose and pass legislation or advocate for bills at higher levels of government.

“It is a start by which it’s the right people with the right experience and can come around the table and can identify programs and services that will reach young people that are affected by the interest and the willingness to be involved in the gun culture that we’ll do something positive out of this,” said Latimer, who noted that he discontinued gun shows at the County Center in one of the earliest decisions of his tenure.

Helping to lead the county’s effort will be Hezues R, the director of S.I.C. Film School, which stands for Social Impact Content. It makes films addressing issues of social importance in society. He said while most discussions surround reducing gun violence address the supply of firearms, it often fails to consider why so many citizens, including many young adults, resort to gun violence.

His approach is to focus on individuals and improve opportunities, not just take away guns.

“It’s not what we take from our community that will create the success, but rather what we give,” Hezues R said. “Reaching the hearts and minds and providing real opportunities and alternatives that will empower youth to live better lives, uplift themselves and others.”

The county will also be partnering with various community organizations that tackle gun violence issues, including the Queens-based Community Capacity Development.

Also part of the effort is County Legislator James Nolan (R-Yonkers), whose brother Mike was fatally shot in the parking lot of a Yonkers Burger King in 2016 with an illegal gun. Nolan said he has made it his mission to do whatever he can to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedy, including having established the Michael Nolan Foundation, which provides scholarships to Yonkers Public Schools graduates.

“I’m looking forward to working on this task force and to getting down to what we can as a plan to help reduce whatever we can with gun violence,” he said.

County Legislator Terry Clements (D-New Rochelle), chair of the Board of Legislators’ Committee on Public Safety, said the task force “will expand on the good work we have already been doing, and will be an important next step towards preventing gun violence on our streets, and in our homes and schools.”






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