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Thank you to the City of Denver and Mayor Hancock for hosting the inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with mayors and other vital stakeholders to discuss how to prevent violence on subnational levels. I also want to thank Rachel Locke from the University of San Diego’s Kroc Institute for moderating this discussion. Finally, thank you to the mayors, civil society and private sector leaders for participating in this conversation. We had a similar conversation with subnational leaders and other stakeholders at last year’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles where we talked about a “city-led” approach to violence prevention, and I am pleased to build on that discussion today.

The effects of violence on our cities cannot be overstated. It undermines social and economic progress, drives displacement, and erodes people’s trust in their government and values of democracy. Our Hemisphere’s struggles with violence and crime are extensive – 47 of the 50 cities with the highest homicide rates globally are found in our region. The challenges are even greater for racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, women and girls, and members of the LGBTQI+ community, who are victimized at higher rates.

Despite the obstacles to addressing violence in our communities, there is reason for optimism. Cities throughout the Hemisphere, including in the United States, have learned that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem. Hardline “mano dura” policies do not address root causes of violence and often have unintended effects.

While we’ve learned what doesn’t work, we’ve also learned there are some successful approaches.

  • First, prioritizing a public health approach combined with building criminal justice capacity yields effective results by treating violence as a disease, with a careful diagnostic process, targeted interventions, and preventative measures.
  • Data-driven methods help us better understand the problem and measure the impact of our interventions. This includes identifying hot spots and why certain groups are vulnerable to victimization or perpetrate violence. This also means using behavior change methodologies to build community trust in the police and improving police capacity to provide citizen security – including to marginalized groups.
  • Though strengthening the police is important, it is essential to instill accountability mechanisms for abuses committed by security forces and build trust between the police and the communities they serve.
  • Finally, there must be strong partnerships and capacity building for those working on violence prevention, including government, civil society, and the private sector at all levels. This includes local and national governments investing in rule of law and social programs to combat violence at the community level.

We cannot do these things alone, and we cannot do them without the extraordinary work of dedicated individuals, like our guests here today, at the local level. Municipalities are doing innovative work to pilot civic justice models meant to disrupt cycles of violence, like Mayor Martinez in Morelia, and to employ data-driven, public health methods to understand the root causes of violence, as Mayor Lopez is doing in Bogotá. Civil society organizations, such as Fútbol con Corazón, Fight for Peace, and the Youth Movement Against Violence, are working with at-risk youth to promote alternatives to criminal activity through sports and education. And cities and the private sector are working together to find creative solutions to our collective challenges.

I want to thank everyone for their presence today and your meaningful efforts to prevent violence in your communities. Now, I’ll turn it over to Rachel Locke to lead our discussion.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future