LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — In an open letter released at a rally Tuesday evening, members of B.U.I.L.D. (Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct-action) accused mayor Linda Gorton of misleading the public about the effectiveness of a violence-reduction program. They also made a renewed push for action on the plan they believe will make the biggest impact.
In a rally at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary, members of the multiple church congregations that make up the B.U.I.L.D. organization said they believe Mayor Gorton has the city's best interest at heart, but are frustrated she has not chosen to implement all the components of "Group Violence Intervention," a program favored by the group.
Last week, Gorton released a letter expressing her reservations about the program. She said there were concerns that Black men could be unfairly targeted.
"I have consulted with Police Chief Lawrence Weathers, law enforcement, the Director of One Lexington, street outreach workers, community activists, faith leaders, the ACLU, NAACP, and the Human Rights Commission," Gorton said in the letter. "All expressed serious concerns about the targeting aspect of GVI, and the serious damage it could do to the relationship among government/law enforcement and communities of color,"
Whit Whitaker, president of the Lexington-Fayette chapter of the NAACP, wrote a letter confirming that those concerns had been raised during the meeting with the mayor.
"There was some reticence among members of the group with whom she requested counsel that there could be a possibility of the strategy being manipulated to specifically target Black men, which could lead to community outrage and further increasing the tension and decreasing the trust between government, law enforcement, and the community," Whitaker wrote.
Later in the letter, though, Whitaker went on to voice support for B.U.I.L.D.
"We unequivocally support the mission of the 27-church coalition of B.U.I.L.D., as well as any other organization whose mission and intentions align with the mission, values, and goals of the NAACP," Whitaker wrote. "We unequivocally support the intentionality behind the Group Violence Intervention Strategy, with the understanding that it is our responsibility to always question and weigh the pros and cons as it may adversely affect the African American community and other marginalized groups because history has not been kind to us and has taught us that corrupt systems are a result of corrupt men and women who falsely purport equity, justice, freedom, and change under the guise of selfish agendas while our marginalized communities and people of color continue to be considered collateral damage, understanding that questioning in no way translates to a lack of support,"
In the letter from B.U.I.L.D. released Tuesday evening, organizers say Gorton took comments about GVI's effectiveness in other cities out of context.
"While the community was speaking, you did not hear us. Your letter indicated you were 'addressing facts'. However, there were a number of statements that could be misleading to the public," the organizers wrote.
Gorton's letter said, "When we met with National Network for Safe Community (NNSC) representatives, they stated in a BUILD meeting in Fall 2021 that they were at a loss to explain why GVI wasn’t working in some cities,"
B.U.I.L.D. organizers said Gorton was not present at the meeting and said the comment she was referring to was about the effects of the pandemic on violence, not on the effectiveness of GVI in those cities.
They also said Gorton said she would have a meeting with the National Network for Safe Communities, the ACLU, the NAACP, and Lexington Human Rights Commission to discuss her concerns about GVI, but then claimed she hadn't said it.
"I was angry because there were so many misleading statements there," said B.U.I.L.D. board member Belinda Snead. "We needed to correct that. We cannot have the public thinking we don't know what we're doing. We're a very organized community organization. We've done our research. We know what we're doing and we know what's best for our city,"
Snead praised some of the mayor's efforts in violence prevention, but said they aren't a complete solution.
"They're excellent. They're pro-active. But they won't deal with the situation right now, with the small group of individuals who are committing most of the violence in our city - that won't deal with those individuals and that's what we're trying to do - stop the killings right now," she said.
In the letter, B.U.I.L.D. organizers said they believe Gorton has the best interest of the city at heart and that she has done good work in other areas. They said their approach would complement her work.
Late Tuesday evening, Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers responded to the group's letter.
"GVI is one of many programs that address violent crime. It has not been proven to be the best," Weathers wrote. "Intelligence-led policing concepts are at the forefront of evidence-based and proven crime prevention strategies. We share concerns of possible harm to the community associated with GVI. In deciding a strategy to address violent crime, we are seeking to do the least harm to the community. We are choosing to utilize proven techniques associated with intelligence gathering and intelligent investigation to develop and prosecute criminal activity. This has also been shown to dramatically decrease violent crime and at the same time reduce harm to the community,"
B.U.I.L.D. plans to hold a community event May 3 at Central Bank Center where they hope to engage with city leaders.