MAKING A STAND Dennis [right].
There were three shootings in Providence over the night of July 4 and the early morning of the next day. One of them was fatal. The incidents offered not just an update to the city’s crime stats — there have been 10 homicides and 49 shootings in 2013, according to the Providence Police — but a sour reminder that violence doesn’t observe national holidays.
Kobi Dennis didn’t need to be reminded. He remembers hearing gunshots and seeing dead bodies while growing up in South Providence. For him, gun violence is just another element of Independence Day alongside fireworks and blueberry pie. “I talked to my wife about it,” he says. “I said, ‘Somebody’s going to get shot today.’”
He explains this while giving a tour of the Madeline Rogers Recreation Center on Smith Hill on the evening of July 5. It is here where, Tuesday through Friday, from 6:30 to 10 pm, Dennis oversees the program he founded four years ago: Project Night Vision. As he takes me to the pool, the basketball court, and the computer lab where a group of kids huddle around a chess board, he talks about the urgent need for nighttime programming for Providence’s teens.
Although Dennis juggles three jobs — he’s a case worker and athletic director at the Tri-Town Community Action Agency, a cultural diversity teacher at the Rhode Island Training School, and an anti-bully consultant with Partnership to Address Violence through Education (PAVE) — it’s his unpaid work for Project Night Vision that he seems most passionate about. Driving through the city at night, he hates to see rec centers with their doors locked and lights flicked off, he says. “I just think it’s a waste. . . it’s a critical time. “
Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO STOP THESE SHOOTINGS? More proactive measures. I just think we have too many reactive things in place. Like the police, I don’t think it’s their job to stop these shootings. I’m probably one of the only people in the community to…say that. I don’t think it’s their problem to fix. Police are supposed to respond to acts of crime, they’re not supposed to prevent them. Can they help? Sure. But is that their primary job? No. Not to put a plug on Night Vision, but we need some more programs like this. I tell people all the time…you ride around the city, there’s probably not many [rec centers] open. [The staff], they’re all gone. They’re home. They’re on their third or fourth beer by now, I’m sure. I don’t have the number for you [of how many shootings happen at night], but I know it’s a high number . . . probably 75 percent, if not 80 percent.
YOU MEET MANY OF THE PERPETRATORS OF THESE SHOOTINGS AT THE RHODE ISLAND TRAINING SCHOOL. DO YOU SEE ANY PATTERNS AMONG THEM? There’s no fear. There’s no remorse. These kids feel as though what they’re doing is justified. It’s not going to stop at the rate that we’re going right now because they feel as though it’s OK to take a life. There’s not one kid that I’ve met that has been remorseful without some time hanging over him. If you said, “Hey, Johnny, you’re gonna do 10 years,” he might say, “Oh, man. I’m really sorry for what I did.”