Gun violence in Cedar Rapids is at an all-time high and the violence is spreading to parts of the eastern Iowa city once considered safe. There have been 19 reports of “shots fired” in Cedar Rapids already this year. While that doesn’t compare with the kind of violence seen in major cities, it’s already more than all of last year’s eleven shootings.
And it’s a major spike from 2010, when just five shootings were reported. Police department public information officer, Sergeant Cristy Hamblin, says they’re not sure what’s behind the massive spike.
“And that’s the frustrating part for us. We can’t come down and I can’t give you a laundry list of five things,” says Hamblin. “There’s so many different factors into the reasoning behind each of those incidents of gun violence.” Police do know one thing — these shootings aren’t random — they’re targeted.
The victim and shooter often know each other. Many of the victims are black men in lower income neighborhoods, sometimes drugs are involved, sometimes not. And police believe the violence may be connected to non-residents, people from larger cities like Chicago or Des Moines.
Hamblin says the trend that’s probably the most consistent is that witnesses aren’t talking. “Take the one that we had last week, in which we had 30 people standing outside, and we had shots fired,” Hamblin says. “In that case, everybody saw something a little bit different – reported that they saw something a little bit different. And even the victim in that case isn’t totally cooperative with us. And that’s where it’s gonna take the community to step up and say, you know what, enough is enough.”
The violence has spread to areas that haven’t seen shootings for years -– if ever. Kirkwood Community College student Jessica Zmolek got a text message last month telling her there’d been a shooting in her apartment complex.
“So I called my friend back and I was like, what do I do? I’ve like never been in this situation,” Zmolek says. “And he was like, well go home. And I was like, well, that’s what happened! And he’s like, well don’t go home!”
In one of the worst neighborhoods, Wellington Heights, residents like Donna Pratt say there may be one upside: she says as violence spreads across town, she’s seeing more people get angry about the issue.
“When it happens in their neighborhood, they’re gonna really start caring a lot more. What those people don’t realize is that when it happened here, it’s their neighborhood, it’s their city,” Pratt says. “It should have mattered to them a long time ago.”
Police have arrested just four people in connection with shootings this year. They admit those stats aren’t great. But they say they’re reaching out to community leaders in churches, schools, and other organizations to get people involved. They’re spreading the word about an anonymous tip system that lets witnesses send encrypted text messages to police.