The Common Council voted last week to give $50,000 to two anti-violence initiatives.
In a 9-0 vote during the Common Council meeting held on Tuesday, May 4, the new Lights on Kingston program received $30,000 from the city’s contingency fund. The program aims to give teens a safe place (the high school) to congregate on Friday nights, with programming and food provided.
The pilot program, which will also receive funding from Ulster County and space at Kingston High School and security from the Kingston City School District, will begin next month and will be free to participants.
The council also approved $20,000 from the contingency fund toward the SNUG (“guns” spelled backward) community outreach program, which focuses on finding solutions to gun violence. SNUG would work in collaboration with the Samadhi Recovery Community Outreach Center in Kingston. The funding will cover training and one staff person.
“It’s a program that is designed to curb the gun violence that’s happening in our city right now through kind of treating this gun violence as a disease and getting to the root cause of why people use guns irresponsibly,” said Fourth Ward Alderwoman Rita Worthington.
Sixth Ward Alderman Tony Davis spoke in support.
“We need to open our eyes and our hearts to the gun violence that’s happening all over our city,” said Davis. “The SNUG program will not be the solution to all the problems, but it’s a start in discussing a problem.”
While the objective of SNUG was not debated, the legitimacy of the planned implementation was. SNUG is an official state program run by New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). The local program would use the same name and espouse the same methods, but it is not affiliated with the state program.
“I am all in favor of having the real SNUG program that is run by DCJS (New York State Division of Criminal Justice),” said Ninth Ward Alderwoman Michele Hirsch, who said she’d spoken to state officials who said they had not been contacted about the local program. “I am highly concerned that we will be causing more of a problem in our community by doing something that is not the real program, that is not the real evidence-based program, that does not have the proper oversight, the proper training…My understanding from speaking with DJAS is that they do not use anyone that has had former drug problems or former addictions, or is in recovery to be violence interrupters. So I’m highly concerned that we will also be damaging our ability to receive the grants and the program here in the city.”
Patrick O’Reilly, Seventh Ward alderman, shared similar concerns.
“This SNUG program sounds great, starting where it all begins,” O’Reilly said. “Where does violence come from? What triggers violence? What triggers people to be violent? What are the root causes of the violence that erupts later on in their lives? I think it’s a great idea to go back to where it originates from, and then try to help people at that point before it becomes an issue. I do have some concerns that it’s not the actual SNUG program, though. From what I understand it’s a copy of it, or maybe even something different. If it is the true SNUG program, I think it’s great from what I understand. If it’s not, then what is it?”
Worthington rejected the suggestion that this is a copycat program with no legitimacy.
“They would be quite offended with us saying they’re not the real thing,” she said. “I would suggest that you contact them as they are the ones that introduced this program to us in the first place…If you don’t think that it’s the real thing, or it’s a copycat of an evidence-based program, reach out to them…I think they would be quite offended with us calling them copycats.”
The discussion prior to the 8-1 vote — with Hirsch casting the lone nay — picked up where it had begun one night earlier during council caucus.
“I just want us to have the real program with the real training and the real oversight,” Hirsch said. “Because I care enough that I actually want the real thing.”
Hirsch added that the Division of Criminal Justice wouldn’t become involved until the local SNUG program was fully funded at $300,000.
The SNUG section of the Samadhi Recovery Community Outreach Center’s website provides more details on how the program will work.
“SNUG focuses primarily on youth between the ages of 14 and 24,” it states. “Samadhi will work together as a team to develop risk-reduction strategies to reduce involvement…with the goal of saving lives and helping individuals turn their lives around. The program will work with the Samadhi Recovery Community Outreach Center, which develops programming for Kingston residents and those returning from incarceration as well as those struggling with addiction, homelessness, mental health challenges and gang violence. We will be working with local youth programming partners to expand outreach efforts. Organizers with SNUG are training educators to look for the seeds of future gun violence and build positive relationships with high-risk individuals. Eventually, they hope to implement the initiative in Kingston High School (KHS) to identify those who may engage in violence, especially gun violence, in order to address the systemic issues that lead them to turn to these activities. Samadhi is going to let that school community know about violence, what it is, and how it spreads. The Samadhi SNUG Program is hoping to change attitudes about gun violence in everyday life.
At the caucus meeting the previous night, Worthington said she was confounded by how much time was spent by the Common Council discussing matters she felt were less important than tackling gun violence.
“I just shake my head sometimes at why this isn’t as important as some of those other things,” she said. “Forgive the emotion…This comparison doesn’t make sense. People are getting killed. Children are being killed. But yet we worry about bike paths and traffic studies and things of that nature…That’s not as important to me as stopping gun violence in our city…It’s personal to me. I know these people that have been killed, and so it is personal.”