Seeking solutions: How do we stop gun violence in Birmingham as our neighborhoods grow?

The shooting death of a two-year old and the injuries sustained by his mother and another man have sparked a community-wide outcry:

How can we stop the violence?

Ron’Narius Austin, via WIAT

What Happened?

Homicide investigators are looking into the death of Ron’Narius Austin and the injuries of two others, after they were shot Saturday night. Birmingham police responded to two locations in the Avondale neighborhood around 11:30 PM. According to Birmingham police Sgt. Bryan Shelton, officers patrolling the area heard gunfire coming from the alley in the 4200 block of Fourth Avenue South.

4100 Block, 3rd Avenue South, Avondale, Birmingham, Alabama
Map of 4200 Block 4th Avenue South, Avondale, Birmingham, Alabama

Witnesses described a shootout involving a vehicle carrying at least four people, with gunfire erupting  inside the victims’ vehicle. Shelton said the suspect vehicle left the scene after the shooting.

The two-year-old boy, his mother and an adult male were found injured by gunshots in the 4100 block of Third Avenue South. Officer responded to the Chevron gas station, across the street from Avondale Common House & Distillery.

4100 Block, 3rd Avenue South, Avondale, Birmingham, Alabama
Map of 4100 Block, 3rd Avenue South, Avondale, Birmingham, Alabama
Violence, Growing Pains, Gentrification

Avondale is a hot spot for restaurant goers and music fans, as it is home to restaurants like 41st Street Pub And Aircraft Sales, Avondale Brewing Company, Fancy’s On 5th, Hot Diggity Dogs and Melt, along with the music venues Saturn and Spring Street Firehouse.

It is also a neighborhood that has seen revitalization in the past five years, with citizens expressing concerns about gentrification and the rate of change happening. While new businesses and homes are being built in the area, spurring business and residential growth, longtime residents are feeling shorted. Real estate prices are rising, more people are moving to a once-depressed area of Birmingham, but not everything is changing for the better.

This latest gun-related death is not the first time Avondale has seen its share of crime and injury. In March, a woman was kidnapped as she was walking to her Avondale apartment, and around this time last year, a local musician was shot as he was leaving a show at Saturn.

How Can We Curb The Violence?

Birmingham has 99 neighborhoods, and Avondale isn’t the only one experiencing gun-releated deaths and violence. The city is up to over 60 homicides this year, a big number for a city our size. Birmingham is also experiencing a renaissance of growth and renewal. Avondale is just one example. Downtown Birmingham and the neighborhood of Woodlawn are also seeing big-time changes. But, with that change comes responsibility.

In a story about Birmingham’s revitalization by WBHM‘s  , former University of Alabama social geography professor Bobby Wilson said that mid-sized cities like Birmingham can do revitalization, even gentrification, better.

Dr. Bobby Wilson, WBHM, Birmingham, Alabama, gentrification, shooting, gun, Avondale, violence
Dr. Bobby Wilson, via WBHM

“It’s very controversial, but if done right, it can benefit everybody,” Wilson told WBHM. Wilson lectured on urban revitalization and social justice for more than 40 years. But, his academic credentials aside, as an area resident, he says he’s just excited to see new life in the city.

But, seeing new life in the city also seems to mean seeing a loss of life, too.

Possible Solutions

Chicago is spending time, money and resources on empowering its police force. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) recommends urban blight removal to reduce firearm assaults.

In Oakland, California, where a booming economy full of high-tech companies and jobs sits right beside marginalized communities, violence (and unemployment) continue to be a serious community issue. City leaders and experts have suggested that offering longtime residents the same access to opportunities as the folks in the new, thriving communities is the way to go.

Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper told The Birmingham Times that we need a multi-faceted approach to a violent reduction strategy:

“Our violence reduction strategy has been used in more than 50 other communities. It is proven to reduce violent crime when community members join together with law enforcement and social service providers to focus an anti-violence message on highly active street groups while reducing mass incarceration.”

Taking Action

Birmingham, what are your thoughts on balancing growth with gun violence? How do we accomplish a holistic approach to gentrification?

Please share your opinions, ideas and suggestions with me via FB. I’ll be asking this same question to our mayoral candidates and posting their answers ASAP.

It’s time for us to come together as a city and address the realities of our neighborhoods.