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More Cops? Mentorship? Activists And Lawmakers Seek Solutions To Curb Lansing’s Gun Violence

portraits of two men
Michael McKissic
Michael McKissic started the Mikey 23 Foundation in honor of his son, Michael, "Mikey," who died due to gun violence in Lansing.

Last year, Lansing had 21 murders, a record high. Most of those homicides involved guns and one-third of those victims were under the age of 25.

And now, 2021 is on track to outpace last year’s figures.

In June, two teenagers were shot and killed within three days of each other. Now, community members are advocating for mentorship programs in the city to help prevent more deaths.

Michael McKissic is one of many Lansing residents doing that. He’s a father who’s felt the impact of the gun violence epidemic first-hand.

“It was August 1, 2015. It was one 1:00 in the morning. My wife and I were asleep, we get a knock at the door. And it was my brother-in-law informing us that Michael was shot. And my wife and I we rushed into hospital, Sparrow hospital. And there he was pronounced dead”

A party on Elm Street had just let out. And Michael’s son Mikey was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was standing on a porch outside of a house when he and another man were shot. The other person recovered, but the perpetrator was never found.

Michael became one of more than 1,000 Michiganders who died from a firearm-related incident that year. “We do not want another parent to continue to go through this, and that’s why we started the Mikey 23 foundation,” McKissic said.

The foundation teaches young people transferable job skills to help keep them busy and away from violence.

“What we do, we teach them how to build in carpentry and they learn the whole aspects of construction,” McKissic said. But McKissic said the rising cases of gun violence in Lansing including the recent deaths of 3 teenagers shows there’s still work to be done.

“Every time my wife and I hear about a young male being murdered, it's like we reliving it all over again. And it's like another Mikey has been murdered,” McKissic said.

It’s not clear yet what has spurred this recent increase in gun violence, but researchers are working to find out. Doctor Patrick Carter at the University of Michigan is one of them.

His research focuses on understanding firearm violence among youth and minority populations.

"We know that among adolescent youth, interpersonal violence, can be an issue, especially in settings where they're exposed to high rates of violence,” Carter said.

He said this can look like a teenager carrying a gun for protection. "But end up either using a firearm aggressively or get into an altercation where somebody uses a firearm against them.”

Carter said we don’t have a full picture of the growing trend of firearm violence because the pandemic could be an outlier. In Lansing, the city is trying a few different ways to combat these trends.

The police department is hiring five additional entry-level patrol officers to address violent crime. Lansing City Councilman Adam Hussain said bringing on these beginner-level positions is a step in filling the 21 vacancies in the department.

“We have some 300 calls for service per day, we can't even respond to those calls for service, let alone patrol the streets, get out in front of crime, build relationships with residents and business owners,” Hussain said.

Hiring those officers would also free up staff to investigate cold cases like Mikey’s.

"That gives us a real opportunity to strengthen our Special Operations Division, by way of promotions from within, right, so now we can investigate and can really bring hopefully perpetrators of gun violence to justice,” Hussain said.

Hussain said another solution to gun violence is mentorship using the model of California’s “Advance Peace” initiative.

It’s a non-profit dedicated to ending cyclical and retaliatory firearm violence in American urban neighborhoods.

"And it deals with mentoring and fellowship, and really engaging the people that are most likely to perpetrate gun violence,” Hussain said.

The program would pair about 25 Lansing residents with mentors. They would be connected with social services and job opportunities over the span of a year and half.

A state lawmaker who represents communities around the Capitol agrees with Hussain’s approach. Representative Sarah Anthony has introduced a bill seeking additional funds for Lansing to pursue the Advance Peace initiative.

"Our kids need intentional mentorship, not just, you know, checking in once a week, kids need adults that are trusted, and are going to be present and are showing up for them each and every day." But Anthony cautions against relying on one solution.

“I think that it would be naive to think that, you know, youth programming is the only solution to this this problem,” Rep. Anthony said.

For McKissic, this means raising awareness on the importance of intergenerational connections in combatting gun violence.

“And so, what we’re doing is making this an action march,” McKissic said.

Local leaders, lawmakers and community activists will march through a portion of South Lansing in early August. McKissic hopes the march will encourage more people to sign up for mentorship programs like the Mikey 23 Foundation so fewer parents will have to go through what he did.

The Mikey 23 Foundation “Action March” takes place Saturday August 7, 2021 at noon. It starts at 5200 Pleasant Grove and ends at 2130 West Holmes Rd.

Megan Schellong is the local host and producer for Morning Edition on WKAR.
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