For the last two months, Pertelle Gilmore, his friends and other community members have been working to address conflicts before they escalate to gun violence.
As their efforts have gained momentum, the community has responded to the message that violence can be stopped, he said.
“Everybody has bought into it,” Gilmore, executive director of the local chapter of New York based-Guns Down, Inc, and leader of the B.U.C.K Squad, said before a conflict resolution training Tuesday afternoon at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church.
The training is designed to help Gilmore’s B.U.C.K Squad better respond to and resolve conflicts and interpret the cycle of violence in the community. The name stands for Black Men Uniting to Cease the Killings.
“They are being trained, specifically, on how to respond, rather than going off instinct,” Gilmore said. “So we’ve taken instinct along with the training and putting them together, which can make us more effective and more efficient.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the council unanimously voted to donate $20,480 to Guns Down for the four-day training, which will support meals and stipends for those who are participating in addition to the training costs. Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the organization also raised $16,000 for the training from other sources.
The meeting was the first for City Manager Chip Boyles, who officially stepped into the role Monday.
The meeting started nearly 30 minutes late. Councilors went into closed session to make appointments to the Police Civilian Review Board, consult with legal counsel and discuss a Feb. 3 memo from acting city attorney Lisa Robertson. Last week, Walker shared a memo from Robertson about the city’s credit card policy and said some of her purchases with a city-issued credit card were being investigated.
In particular, Walker said she’s been purchasing gift cards for community members since 2018, a practice Robertson said is not allowed, though city employees have known about those purchases for several years.
Those who spoke during public comment were largely supportive of Walker.
“If we can pour 40, 50, $60,000 into consultants to come in and give us ideas and rationalize what we need in the city, [and] if we have citizens doing the work, it only makes sense to pay them as well,” Don Gathers said.
Councilors planned to further discuss the credit card policy later in the meeting.
The donation for the B.U.C.K Squad would come out of the Strategic Initiatives fund, according to agenda documents. The current balance of that fund is $349,087.
New York-based Guns Down, Inc. is the squad’s fiscal agent for donations. Gilmore said they are working to become a 501c3 nonprofit.
Gilmore said he talked to community members and city officials about investing in bringing a professional in to train the group’s violence interrupters, or outreach workers. The need for such a training was highlighted recently when one of the workers had a gun pulled on him while doing a conflict resolution.
Marcus McAllister with McAllister Consultancy and Training is leading this week’s training. He’s a longtime violence prevention specialist.
Gilmore started working in the community to resolve conflicts after his friend Jamarcus Washington was killed in late December. Washington was the second Black man fatally shot around the South First Street public housing community over two months last year.
“So I came up here specifically, the day after he was killed, to try to see what to try to remedy the situation so there wouldn’t be more bloodshed,” said Gilmore, who grew up on South First Street.
In 2020, police responded to 14 shots-fired calls on South First Street, which was more than the total from the prior three years, according to CPD data
In early January, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney called on the community to help find solutions to the increase in shootings.
In the first week after Washington died, Gilmore said the group did seven informal conflict resolutions.
“It was the first week in five months that there were no gunshots in Charlottesville,” Gilmore said city officials told him. “So we were very effective.”
The group’s conflict resolution process involves meeting separately with each side to understand what’s at the heart of disagreement and then trying to remedy the situation.
“First and foremost, they try to get them to comprehend that this is minute; no one needs to lose their life out of it,” Gilmore said.
After the conflict is resolved, the group provides the individuals with a range of resources related to mental health, employment and other topics.
“The ultimate goal is to saturate them to the point where everywhere they turn, there’s health; everywhere they turn, they see healing,” he said.
People who need help can reach out to the B.U.C.K Squad hotline at (434) 284-3111, which is available 24 hours a day. Those who want to get involved should also call the hotline.
Gilmore said they need as many volunteers as possible.
“This is not an isolated situation that we can handle all ourselves,” he said. “ … This thing has evolved into something that transcends anything that we can possibly imagine. And I don’t want to have to go to anymore mothers and hear them ask the question, ‘why is my son dead?’”
Moving forward, Gilmore said additional funding will help the group establish a downtown office, pay staff and start programs.
“We need any iota,” he said. “… The key is we need everybody. This is not just a B.U.C.K squad thing. This is a community of Charlottesville thing, and we need everybody to be a part of this.”