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City earmarks $5 million in COVID relief funds for a 'peace collective'

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The city of Rochester is setting aside $5 million in federal COVID relief funds to a new “peace collective” aimed at curbing citywide violence.

The legislation, submitted by Mayor Malik Evans and City Council President Miguel Melendez, is set to go to a vote at Council’s monthly meeting on May 10. The program aims to partner with anti-violence community organizations, as well as bolstering existing programs like Pathways to Peace and the Persons in Crisis (PIC) Team.

Evans said the goal is to “get money out the door as fast as possible.” Where the money will be specifically disbursed is unclear, however. The city is seeking input from the community and existing organizations as to what programs are ripe for support, and the mayor said those focused on mediation and resolving conflicts are a top priority.

“So many of these disputes are people that love each other,” Evans said. “Sometimes they’re family, they’re people that are good friends, they’re people you’ll see on video in a store talking to each other, and the next thing you know, one’s pulling out a gun and blowing the other’s head off.”

Rochester, like much of the nation, has seen a spike in homicides in the past couple years.

In 2021, the city set a new homicide record of 71, according to Rochester Police Department data. This year to date, the city has had 22 homicides, a slight increase year over year. Of those, 86 percent involved a firearm, and 52 percent of the cases have been closed.



So far in 2022, 96 people have been shot, and 11 shootings had multiple victims. Last year ended with 349 shooting victims and 53 incidents involving multiple victims.

The program will be led by Victor Saunders, a longtime leader of the violence intervention group Pathways to Peace, whom Evans tapped in January to head up his administration’s violence prevention initiatives.

“Today’s announcement of the Rochester peace collective formalizes all of the existing cooperation and coordination by building bridges and eliminating silos as we include city, county, community, and religious organizations as we continue this fight for the soul of our city,” Saunders said.

The $5 million allocation comes from $202.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds the city was awarded last year.

Evans referred to the largesse as “seed money” and called on anti-violence organizations to make their case for support.



“I am confident that the people of Rochester are up to this task, which is why I’m creating this Rochester peace collective, to empower them in that spirit of collaboration,” Evans said. “So Rochester, we need your help, we know that there are so many of these organizations up here that are operating on shoestring budgets…we want to help you.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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