Over the past few years, gun violence has become a nationwide problem and growing concern for citizens. In the city of Ypsilanti, there appears to be no exception.
The city has seen more gun violence than usual this summer, according to Ypsilanti Chief of Police.
“We’ve always had a little tick in violence in the city over the summer,” DeGiusti said. “That’s pretty typical. What’s atypical about this year is that we’ve already surpassed the number of incidents we normally have in the summer.”
Police records show 30 gun-related cases in the city since the first of the year. Of those 30 incidents, 20 of them occurred in the summer between the months of May 6 and Aug. 6.
The report shows one murder, which occurred outside the Avenue Market liquor store on May 6. The report also shows three assaults with intent to commit murder, seven aggravated felony assaults with a gun, and three robberies within the span of three months.
DeGiusti said it’s not easy to point a finger at one particular cause for the increase in gun violence.
"It’s coming from a lot of different things,” he said. “A lot of it is narcotics related. Some if it’s just people who have beef with other people, not necessarily even from our city, so let’s make that perfectly clear. … This is a complex problem that needs a lot of different solutions obviously.”
In response to the uptick of local gun-related crimes in 2019, the city held its first public input meeting on July 23 to discuss what steps the city has taken to help minimize gun violence and hear concerns from members of the community. The meeting was conducted by Mayor Beth Bashert, City Manager Frances McMullan and Ypsilanti Chief of Police Tony DeGiusti.
Mayor Bashert said that while gun violence is a problem across the nation, it does not need to become accepted in the city of Ypsilanti.
“Ypsilanti can take a stand and say, ‘There is no room for gun violence in our community,’” Bashert said. “I and we will not take it for granted that it is ok for guns to be inappropriately available to teenagers. I and we can speak up when somebody talks smack about guns; about having a gun and what they’re going to do next when some some bad guy trips through their neighborhood. We do not have to accept it.”
Bashert acknowledged that there is no one easy solution to the problem. However, she said there are small actions that every member of the community can take to help make a difference, such as reporting suspicious behavior and teaching children to handle their anger without guns.
“There are a lot of actions that the community, the city and individuals can do that will add up,” Bashert said. “For us to have an impact, we have to act, both individually and as a community.”
City Manager McMullan stated that the city has teamed up with several initiatives to make a statement that gun violence will not be tolerated.
One of those initiatives is a gun buyback event sponsored by a local nonprofit called The Cream. The Cream has raised funds and is working with the Ypsilanti Police Department to give members of the community an opportunity to turn their guns in for money with no questions asked.
The police department has promised nobody will get in legal trouble or have to answer questions about how the gun was acquired, according to The Cream.
“This isn’t an anti-second amendment movement,” Tru Ajani, outreach coordinator for The Cream, said. “We’re not going to sit here and act like getting pistols out of the black community is the number one problem we should be focusing on. This is something that curves violence. We’re not aiming at people who legally own firearms. We’re talking about the 13, 14 or 15 year old that may have gotten a pistol handed down from his uncle or may have found it on the street that will take a $200 or $250 stipend for the pistol.”
The gun buyback event will be Aug. 24 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ypsilanti Community Church. There will be a $250 base rate for all high powered handguns and $500 for all assault rifles. Prices may increase depending on the additional magazines and accessories accompanying the gun.
The city also recently introduced an anonymous Tip Line (734-292-5429) to encourage members of the community to report suspicious activity without having to be identified. Chief DeGuisti said reporting suspicious activity doesn’t make someone a snitch, rather it makes them a responsible citizen doing their civic duty to keep the community safer.
“I get that people are scared to do that,” DeGuisti said. “I was at the Parkridge homes last week, and we talked about that. These people are saying, ‘Well, I might get hurt.’ Well, you might get hurt anyways. If there are bullets flying on the street, none of them have anybody name on them … You can either participate in trying to stop that, and maybe something will happen, or you can wait for something to happen anyways.”
In light of the shooting that happened at the Parkridge Townhomes on July 11, several actions were promptly taken to prevent an incident of that nature from happening again.
Zachary Fosler, executive director of the Ypsilanti housing commission, said the complex has added cameras, stricter parking enforcement to keep people off the premises who aren’t supposed to be there and granted law enforcement 24 hour live camera access, allowing them to intervene without having to wait for property management.
Fosler backed up Chief DeGuisti by saying residents need to report suspicious activity when they see it.
“We need information to take action against households who are bringing violent crime to our sites,” Fosler said. “We need to know who they are. … If you see your neighbor’s door opening and closing 100 times a day … if you mention it to us, we can easily put a camera there and start building evidence. People have rights, and we can’t and won’t take action against somebody without evidence.”
Several members of the community expressed their feelings and concerns at the July 23 public input meeting. Their voices were heard by big names in attendance such as County Commissioner Ricky Jefferson, State
Representative Ronnie Peterson, Senator Jeff Irwin, Country Prosecutor Candidate Eli Savit and City Council Members Nicole Brown, Annie Somerville, Steve Wilcoxen and Mayor Pro-Tem Lois Richardson.
Brian Foley, a lifelong resident of the city said he believes drugs are the root of the problem.
“When you understand the disease of addiction and how it works, and trauma and stress, that gun problem that you see ‘acting out’ is acting out from that trauma and that stress that we have not addressed,” he said. “And if we don’t address that, we’re going to continue have violence and gun violence as we see it.
“It’s really nice that we have these rallies, these marches or these t-shirts, and all that kind of stuff,” Foley continued. “That’s really cute; they’re sympathetic, but we need people who are going to be empathetic and totally understand the trauma and stress that our community is suffering.”
Mayor Bashert responded that all actions are helpful and important, even if they feel minuscule.
“Rallies are important because they add strength to people who might need a little more strength to take action,” she said. “Meetings like this are important because we feel our community together sharing our concerns and adding depth to our concerns. All actions are helpful. … We need all levels of help to turn this tide.”