Persevering in a Pandemic

As we continue sheltering at home and missing GAGV monthly meetings, we’re eager to use this newsletter to stay connected with you, our important supporters.

Clearly, we’ve all been affected by the pandemic and its interruption of daily life. Hopefully, none of us has suffered the loss of a loved one, neighbor or friend. If you have, we offer our condolences. While the shelter in place orders have primarily been an inconvenience for most of us, we know many others are suffering major life events including loss of employment, hunger and extreme stress about what the future holds. Our hearts go out to them. Despite the uncertainty we all feel, we’ve also been buoyed by inspiring acts of courage, kindness and generosity.

Life and work continue. That’s why this month we’re focusing on how the pandemic has affected the work of some of GAGV’s best partners. They too have been forced to make adjustments in their professional lives because of restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

GAGV Partners Working in the Pandemic

Police delivering boxes of food to homes in neighborhoods they patrol. Mental health professionals “seeing” patients in their own environments for the first time. Domestic violence advocates using time away from court to delve more deeply into individual cases.

These are among the changes and unexpected benefits three of GAGV’s partners in curbing gun violence have seen the past several weeks as they’ve continued working during the pandemic. Every day these professionals in law enforcement, mental health and the judicial system are managing to meet the needs of those relying on them for help.

Unlike many professionals who can work remotely from home, “we are still out there answering the call. It’s what we signed up for,” said KCPD Officer Jason Cooley, Community Initiative Officer for the Chief of Police. Officer Cooley coordinates KCPD’s Community Interaction Officers (CIOs) who often help GAGV staff Lock It For Love events and who were recognized in 2018 as GAGV’s Organization Advocate of the Year.

So far in KCMO, the rate of crimes directly related to gun violence, such as homicides and armed robberies, remains about the same during the stay-at-home period as it was last year although available statistics covered only three weeks, according to Cooley.

Administratively, CIOs are doing more multitasking, such as helping answer 911 and 311 (non-emergency) calls. In the community, they’re collaborating with Harvesters, officers from the Police Athletic League and KCPD social workers to identify struggling families in the neighborhoods they serve. “To date, we’ve delivered roughly 1,100 boxes of food to the front porches of those in need,” Cooley said, with more of the 16-pound food boxes on their way. “TEAM KCPD is stepping up as a whole and everyone is taking on new and different roles to accomplish (our) mission.”

The role of psychiatrist in treating patients while social distancing has presented different challenges for Dr. Shayla Sullivant, an adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) and GAGV’s 2018 Individual Advocate of the Year. She’s now “offering phone/video visits whenever possible (because) we know mental health concerns do not evaporate in a pandemic and some worsen, so we want to do what we can to reach people.”

Dr. Sullivant said CMH has seen a drop in the number of adolescents presenting to the Emergency Department with thoughts of suicide; suicide accounts for the largest percentage of gun deaths in the U.S. “It’s not clear to us if the drop is because of an actual decrease or families avoiding the health care environment” because of the pandemic.

Some of Dr. Sullivant’s patients with social anxiety have reported lower stress levels since staying at home while others faced with using technology to stay engaged “have expressed some discomfort using more technology, either feeling uncomfortable seeing themselves on screen or just not wanting to use it in general.”

Her own increased use of technology to “see” her patients has been an added bonus for Dr. Sullivant. “We’re seeing folks at home which has been nice,” she said. “I’ve been able to meet family members and often folks feel more relaxed” in their own environments.

For victims of domestic violence, their home environments, especially during stay-at-home restrictions, can prove to be even more dangerous. Higher rates of domestic violence calls have been reported nationwide and in KCMO. In Johnson County “it seems to vary by location,” according to Assistant Johnson County District Attorney Megan Ahsens, who specializes in prosecuting domestic violence cases. She was GAGV’s program speaker in September 2019. She said clear understanding of domestic violence statistics in Kansas is difficult because the state’s definition includes all kinds of relationships, even those not between intimate partners.

She shares a concern with law enforcement that abusers are “using the pandemic as another tool of power and control over their victims (such as) an abuser telling a victim that if she calls the police, they will just bring the virus to the house and she would be endangering their children,” Ahsens said.

A large part of her normal workday is spent in court appearances and trials. With the courthouse largely closed, that’s no longer possible. “That has had an unexpected benefit,” Ahsens said, freeing up her time to dig deeper into some cases. “For example, I can pull and listen to jail phone calls now on many more of my cases and I can have our investigators do the same,” she said. “Having a bit of extra time has meant I can do more in the way of adding charges if (accused abusers) call their victims…or try to prevent their victims from cooperating with us or the police.”

This past January, GAGV named 2020 the Year of Collaboration. We’re grateful to these three partners for sharing their pandemic experiences with us and look forward to the time we can collaborate with them again in person, whatever the prescribed social distance might be.

Officer Jason Cooley, Dr. Shayla Sullivant and Megan Ahsens.

Our Vison Quilt project is off and running!

Last month we told you about our newest project: a partnership with Vision Quilt, a five-year-old nonprofit in Oregon, to create panels in a digital quilt focusing attention on gun violence prevention. Founder Cathy Deforest hopes to replicate for the gun violence movement the same world-wide reaction the AIDS Memorial Quilt of the 1980s brought to the HIV epidemic.

GAGV’s participation has already started. Seven eager GAGV members joined Cathy and her son Derek in a recent Zoom instructional session. We hope to have a few panels ready for display on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 2. 

We provide the panel material and additional Zoom sessions with Cathy and Derek while you provide the creativity. If you think you aren’t creative enough, just visit the Vision Quilt website and become inspired by the wide variety of panels already created by adults and children of all ages from around the country. Some are quite simple while others are more complicated. Everyone can participate, so share this idea with your children, grandchildren and friends. 

Become a virtual quilter! Go to [email protected] and we’ll get right back to you.

Protecting Voting in a Pandemic

Every election is important with its own set of challenges. Because of COVID-19, the pivotal November 2020 election promises to be one of the most challenging. While Kansas election laws allow for mail-in votes, Missouri lags far behind with very outdated and restrictive laws. A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, the League of Women Voters and individual residents seeking to allow all Missourians to vote absentee in upcoming elections. There is also a petition being sent to Missouri leaders outlining a plan to ensure voters’ ability to cast their ballots safely and securely. You can review and sign it here.

 And remember to confirm your own voter registration

Share Your Thoughts With Us

We miss seeing you and sharing insights and information in person. However, we’d like to take this unique opportunity to learn your thoughts about how we can make GAGV as worthy as possible of your time, interest and energy. We’d appreciate your answering a few questions so we can maintain our success and effectiveness in building communities free from gun violence. Thanks in advance for participating in the survey.


News You Can Use

A closely watched U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment:

Supreme Court avoids new Second Amendment ruling, dealing blow to gun rights advocates

An excellent Op-Ed column in the April 26 edition of The Kansas City Star by Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County Prosecutor, on using the scientific response to the pandemic as a blueprint for responding to gun violence.

The experts are leading the COVID-19 fight. Where is our Fauci for KC’s gun violence?

Grandparents Against Gun Violence is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Kansas City, Missouri, that focuses on issues related to gun violence in Kansas and Missouri. We are working with community partners on strategies such as distributing gun locks to help gun owners protect the children in their homes from tragedy.

P.O. Box 11193, Overland Park, KS 66207  |  [email protected]

Donate to Grandparents Against Gun Violence

Facebook  •  Unsubscribe