What do city parks have to do with gun violence?

That's a question being asked by people who were in attendance in Waterloo Monday night for a meeting billed as "a community conversation on gun violence". What they got instead was an update on the city's Parks & Recreation upgrade plans. Many are struggling to connect the dots.

According to Iowa's News Now, Waterloo is dealing with the aftermath of several violent shootings in the last month, including multiple fatal incidents. One of those included an incident where officers shot and killed a man who was later found to have been wielding an "airsoft" gun at them.

The presenter, council member Jonathan Grieder's explanation, was just as vague:

We have to look at this holistically, and that means addressing societal ills, and in order to do that we have to look at obviously, the gun issue and the violence this year, but we also have to look at the the groundwork that lays a path for folks to think 'that makes up a course of action,' which is what the focus of this conversation was on, is looking at those secondary areas that impact peoples day-to-day lives, whether it’s their leisure activities or their job

What does that mean? A few years ago, Cedar Rapids began something called an "ambassador" program for Green Square Park when they began to see an upswing in fights and violent activity in that area. As a way to curb those incidents as well as make a popular city park more inviting and safe for the public, the idea was to enlist rehabilitated homeless individuals to not only literally "clean up" Green Square Park but to "hire" those individuals to hang out in the library or the nearby vicinity to act as mediators with people who, theoretically, can relate to them to diffuse hostilities before they become violent.

Perhaps last night's "community conversation" was held to lay the groundwork for such a thing in Waterloo but no one really knows. One person in attendance said,

If you don’t have a way to direct people to the parks, to those centers, I mean, even this conversation as we were hearing, obviously it wasn’t out in the public, not enough people heard about it, I expected a couple hundred people, not 20

Confusion may reign as to what the intent of last night's gathering was, until at least September 27 when another meeting is scheduled, and residents hope to begin an actual conversation on solutions. Until then, Grieder says residents can continue to keep updated on the city's website.

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