NS church groups ask government to step in following gun violence

NS church groups ask government to step in following gun violence
A group of Nova Scotian churches is calling on the government to do more about the gun violence that's led to the deaths of several black Nova Scotians. Global's Steve Silva reports.

As calls for violence to end in Halifax continue to build, members of the African Nova Scotian community are urging government to find a solution to the issue and address its underlying causes.

READ MORE: Timeline: Homicides in Halifax in 2016

“This is a public health emergency, and we need a public health strategy,” said Rev. Rhonda Britton, vice moderator with the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia (AUBA).

Halifax has had 12 homicides in 2016, three more than last year and seven more than 2014. The latest took place near the corner of Gottingen and Falkland streets last Monday night.

AUBA, which represents 19 churches in the province, says the recent spate of gun violence that has taken the lives of several young black men needs to be addressed.

READ MORE: Tyler Keizer identified as victim of Monday night’s fatal shooting

Britton says one of the group’s requests is that a team of mental health clinicians be set up to help support community members affected by the violence.

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“There is so much grief,” Britton said. “These kids have seen so much that they need professionals to talk to.”

Dalhousie University historian Isaac Saney said while there are still solutions that need to be found, maintaining a dedicated mental health team could help in the short term.

“I think it’s important … to allow the community to cope psychologically,” Saney said. “I think that’s an immediate response that can happen.”

On Monday, the African Nova Scotian community held a “family meeting” to discuss possible measures to reduce violence in the region. Reporters were asked not to attend.  But the talk is not just happening in meetings.

READ MORE: Halifax sees upswing in homicides

Halifax’s former poet laureate El Jones said part of the problem can be attributed to a lack of focus on systemic causes of violence.

“If any other number of young people were dying at these rates, it would be a crisis and not a crisis of, like, ‘Well, you black people just did this to yourselves,’ but a crisis of what can we do to help,” Jones said.

“Somebody asked the question to me, you know, ‘why is it these young men can get guns but they can’t get their hands on productive resources?’ That’s deliberate.”

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Nova Scotia Justice Minister Diana Whalen said in a statement to Global News that she’s working with her colleagues to determine what steps can be taken to address the recent violence and other systemic issues facing African Nova Scotians.