Behind the Bullets: New American community searches for solutions to violence

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 6:16 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Gunfire has risen dramatically in Burlington in the last few years. Since 2012, there have been 64 gunfire incidents recorded by Burlington Police, with 25 of them taking place so far this year alone. In part two of his investigation, Dom Amato reports on the city’s effort to fund the New American Advisory Council, a Burlington-based nonprofit that is taking a hands-on approach to addressing gun violence within their community.

Addressing gun violence and gang mentality among “new American youth” is behind a new proposal being funded by the city of Burlington. It’s from the Vermont New American Advisory Council, or VNAAC, a coalition of new American leaders striving to increase civic engagement and dismantle barriers to a sense of belonging in Vermont.

“We want to engage the leaders of these communities to look at these trends,” said Burlington City Councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, who is helping spearhead the effort.

Dieng moved to Vermont in 2008 from Mauritania in West Africa. As a new American, he’s helped his community adapt to life here. The VNAAC recently received $20,000 from the city to fund activities including support groups with mental health clinicians of color. It’s designed to bring these communities together to address safety concerns, mistrust of the legal and judicial system, and the culture of fear.

“The proposal was in response to some of the concerns that they’ve been hearing from their community,” said Phet Keomanyvanh, acting director of the city’s Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging office. The money is coming from her department but events will be held by leaders in these specific communities to address the complex and culturally sensitive issues that require a different approach. She says The hope is to prevent more violence and stop it from reaching the younger generations. “It gives it more of an authentic feel and authentic outcomes,” Keomanyvanh said.

The July murder of Hussein Mubarak, who was part of the Somali Bantu community, was a turning point for some new American families. A person of interest has been arrested in that case who is believed to also be a new American.

By mid-summer, about half of the city’s gunfire incidents were connected to a small group of new American young men. But Burlington Police Acting Chief Jon Murad says those numbers have not continued to climb. “We have arrested several people who are most prone to actual violence in that group, and their removal from ‘the ‘board’ -- as it were-- has decreased gun violence in that group,” he said.

The violence amongst this small group is attributed to many of the same reasons as the majority of other gunfire incidents in the city -- interpersonal relationships and disrespect. Murad notes that these young people are Burlingtonians, have been here for quite some time, and that drugs don’t seem to be a factor.

Dieng hopes their plan to address concerns from new Americans will make an impact now and in the future. “We will partner to get this done for the sake of the future generation,to feel that Burlington is a safe place to come, to live, work and raise children,” he said.

According to the proposal, VNAC is working on outreach and setting up their events right now. The tentative plan is for them to begin in December.

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