From KERA News:
The temperature on Victor Alvelais’ car dashboard was 100 degrees as he drove around Oak Cliff.
“We recently had to respond to a murder that there was an argument and a fist fight,” he said, pointing to an apartment building.
“We had to respond to an incident over here a few months back,” Alvelais said as he drove by another complex. “An 11-year-old boy was shot and killed by a 14-year-old girl.”
These were just a few of the apartment complexes where Dallas Cred has responded to gun violence — Alvelais is the organization’s program director. The group, which is part of the nonprofit Youth Advocate Programs, aims to interrupt the cycle of violence by teaching conflict resolution and connecting the community with resources.
And as temperatures spike in the summer, so does gun violence. That increase continues to grow as the climate changes.
Alvelais’ somber tour continued.
“This apartment complex here has an infamous history,” he said as he drove through the entrance to Volara Apartments on East Overton Road.
Dallas Cred also serves Cherokee Village apartments on Elam Road. There was a shooting there in early June where 23-year-old Latorra Allen was killed at a party. The group held a vigil for her last week.
That incident fits a larger pattern seen across North Texas – and the nation. More than a quarter of this year’s mass shootings in the country happened in the summer, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. That includes the shooting in Fort Worth’s Como neighborhood where three people were killed at a block party before Independence Day.
Fort Worth and Tarrant County recently created the One Second Collaborative to address gun violence in the area. Samuel Varner is the director. Varner said the organization anticipated an increase in gun violence over the summer.
“Young people are out of school,” he said. It’s hot.”
There’s evidence that warm weather plays a role in gun violence. A recent study from Boston University and the University of Washington that used data from the Gun Violence Archive found about 7% of shootings in America — and 5% in Dallas — were linked to unusually high temperatures.
And those temperatures are increasingly more common as the planet warms. Jonathan Jay, an assistant professor at Boston University’s school of public health and a senior author on the study, said the report found hotter days in other seasons were also associated with gun violence.
“Every degree that you add of temperature increases, the risk of gun violence, it just kind of goes up and up as it gets warmer,” Jay said.
Alvelais said he has seen heat lead to more gun violence in Oak Cliff. He said tensions increase when temperatures rise in the summer and people are on edge.
“You’re more stressed,” he said. “You have less patience.”
Law enforcement has noticed this too. U.S. attorneys in multiple states are working with local police to curb gun violence. In North Texas there’s a program known as ‘operation take aim.’
It’s targeting repeat offenders – but Dallas police chief Eddie Garcia says the goal isn’t for law enforcement officers to arrest their way out of the problem. Garcia said law enforcement is working with community groups to increase access to resources – things like housing, jobs, food and education.
“We want them to succeed, because when they succeed, so do we,” he said.
Alvelais said resources make a difference — and Oak Cliff needs more. That’s something he experienced in his childhood.
Alvelais grew up in the neighborhood and came back two years ago after serving 26 years in prison for murder. He said things felt familiar.
“I was so happy Oak Cliff still looked the same,” Alvelais said. “And I was so sad that Oak Cliff still looked the same.”
That’s why Alvelais works with Dallas Cred – he wants to end the cycle of violence he got caught up in as a kid.
Several children who live at Cherokee Village Apartments in Oak Cliff went to the vigil Dallas Cred held last week for the woman killed at a party in June.
They stood with their parents and neighbors that damp summer evening and released black and orange balloons into the sky to honor her – the same colors as Dallas Cred’s t-shirts.
Summer isn’t over yet and there have already been more shootings. And that pattern could continue as temperatures – and tensions – get hotter.
But that doesn’t mean groups like Dallas Cred won’t stop trying.
“We cannot be afraid of our neighbors, our communities,” Alvelais said. “You can’t be afraid of someone and tell him that you’re trying to help.”