NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Newport News received more than $66 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. A lot of the money is planned to be appropriated for things like infrastructure, housing improvements, and more in the agenda summary for the city's Tuesday council meeting.
In this list, you'll find one crime-prevention effort, which is expanding the Newport News Police Department "ShotSpotter" program.
However, one thing not on the top of the list is appropriating the money to grassroots organizations to help prevent gun violence.
Councilman David Jenkins requested in December that $200,000 of the funding be allocated to various grassroots organizations.
"People don't want to live in a neighborhood where they fear gun violence. When you start talking about economic development, people don't want to open a business where they worry their customers or employees will get shot," said Jenkins. "So, let's put this at the heart of what we're talking about and not address this as a side issue or an add-on."
Instead of voting to allocate $200,000 to grassroots funds, the city said it is teaming up with Christopher Newport University to conduct a study on gun violence. It's called the "Community Violence Assessment" and it aims to analyze gun-use data and determine where crime is hitting Newport News the most.
When the study is complete and the city has more data, that's when city leaders say they will introduce more funding. However, the study could take a few months, which is too long for Newport News activists like Yugonda Sample-Jones, Founder of the organization "EmPower All."
"I've seen organizations that have changed the direction of a child's life with just $1,000 for a summer program," said Sample-Jones. "So, really, whatever amount of money due to the gun violence fight, make sure that it's due to us."
In Newport News, gun violence continuously increased over the past three years. For Sample-Jones, it hits close to her heart after she lost her own nephew to a shooting.
Since then, she and her organization members have made it their mission to help the community get the necessary resources, but with that effort, comes the need for funding.
"A 16-year-old killed my nephew over $80," said Sample-Jones. "So, that looks like we could have a workforce program, so we can train them how to do work in the community, be a productive citizen, and get that mentorship from businesses... and get paid. That's what this money can do."
She said she wants to see a portion of the more than $66 million the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act go toward grassroots organizations like her own to help prevent gun violence among teens.
Councilman Jenkins said he wants to hear more input from the community on what to do with this money, which he hopes to see during the council meeting.
"I am concerned we're going to have a vote on the ARPA funds when we have not gotten further along on how those funds should be used," said Jenkins. "I'm not talking about unveiling a comprehensive program immediately, but it makes sense we do the things we can do now to help fight this problem."
City council members discussed their "Community Violence Assessment" during their work session Tuesday evening.
The formal council meeting begins at 7 p.m. when council members are expected to vote on the appropriation of the ARPA funding.