Together We Can Build A Safe, Healthy Buffalo

From India Walton

Back Buffalonians are in the midst of a terrible year for shootings and homicides. Like many of my neighbors, I am still reeling from the violence earlier this summer, when 21 of our neighbors were shot, including a 3-year-old, in 15 incidents of gun violence over the July 4th weekend. Incident upon incident breaks our hearts, the anger and grief compounding.

Neighborhood violence is just one source of pervasive fear we endure. Our housing, healthcare and job insecurity is rampant, our blood is poisoned with lead, and a still-raging pandemic threatens our lives and livelihoods. Black life is often scary in our beautiful city.

The current administration’s approach to public safety has been an abject failure. Year after year, the Mayor employs one strategy, to the exclusion of all others: heavier surveillance, more aggressive prosecutions, and harsher punishments. And year after year, we never get any safer.

For one thing, police can prove as dangerous as those they are sent to arrest.

From my experience as a survivor of violence, Registered Nurse, and Executive Director of a democratically-run housing development corporation, I understand what taking a holistic approach to public safety would look like. My program is evidence-based, data-driven, and founded on proven practices.

Non-carceral community resources are at the heart of this program. Our city already has promising models like Buffalo SNUG and BRAVE to point to, and the University of Buffalo’s pioneering work on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design to draw from. There are viable solutions for us to implement, if we’re ready to get serious about public safety.

Safe neighborhoods. An array of models exist to address the root causes of gun violence before harm occurs, rather than simply punishing it after the fact. From Cure Violence and Advance Peace, and my favorite, the pathbreaking Life Camp model, systems for mobilizing money, mentors, conflict mediation, trauma-informed therapeutic practices prove much more successful than policing at reducing gun violence.

Additionally, I will establish a non-violent mental health first responder corps, which deploys therapists and social workers for calls involving mental health crises, such as suicide attempts, substance misuse and serious mental illness. Such people are proven to accept care at higher rates, and be transported to hospitals at lower rates, than when police are involved.

Safe Schools. Having been a Buffalo public school nurse in, I know that school safety requires reducing class sizes, and investing in guidance counselors, therapists, and school nurses, rather than funneling our children into the school-to-prison pipeline with school police.

Safe Housing. No community can be truly safe unless all of its inhabitants have livable, permanent housing. As an accomplished executive with the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, I know how to lead a community through a process to democratically direct its own development. We must aggressively expand our support for community land trusts. Additionally,  our city’s homeless outreach must consist of mental health professionals, community organizers, and other experts trained to help connect our unhoused neighbors to housing and services, rather than deploying police.

Safe Hospitals. Nurses like me endure some of the highest rates of workplace violence. Hospitals are high-stress, life-or-death environments. To make them safe, we must work with organized labor and state legislators to ensure safe staffing in hospitals and nursing homes, and we must invest in medical social workers to help patients and their families navigate an all-too-complicated healthcare system.

Safe Streets. Infrastructure improvements like protected bike and bus lanes, widened and accessible sidewalks, and speed bumps are a much more effective way of reducing crashes than routine police traffic stops. We should also relocate collision investigation responsibilities from BPD to the Department of Transportation, to streamline the process of turning strategic recommendations into life-saving infrastructure improvements.

Safety from gender violence and sexual assault. As a survivor of intimate partner violence, I know that true safety comes from community-based supports like trauma-informed mental and physical healthcare, housing services, and childcare. Instead of incarcerating those who do harm, which all but forces them to deny wrongdoing and avoid accountability, we must invest in restorative justice programs that offer pathways to amends, growth, and healing.

If our city is finally to treat Black Lives as though they truly matter, we had better get serious about public safety, and adopt this agenda.

It’s time for a change. Together, we can build a safe, healthy Buffalo.

India Walton is the Democratic Nominee for Mayor