In 1996, she survived a shooting in N.J. Now she helps prevent them

A headshot of Pamela Johnson

Pamela Johnson, executive director of the Anti-Violence Coalition of Hudson County. (Courtesy of Pamela Johnson)

Pamela Johnson said she was 22 when someone shot her at a gathering in Jersey City’s West Bergen neighborhood.

The 48-year-old mom of a then 4-year-old daughter said the bullet hit her torso. Though she physically recovered, Johnson — who now considers herself an activist — said gun violence survivors face stigma and suffer from trauma, which sometimes leads to more problems down the road.

“A lot of people look down on victims of violence. They think that somehow we’re all responsible for getting shot,” Johnson said.

Furthermore, she claimed that mental health problems and wealth disparities play a role in violence in predominantly Black communities.

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“What is really going to change the game [is] if you’re providing opportunity for the same people you want to stop shooting,” she said.

Johnson is on a crusade to make her community safer and change how leaders and elected officials talk about violence in underserved neighborhoods, and she has support from state leaders, who have allocated millions of dollars to the cause including a significant allocation of federal funds announced Monday.

In 2014, after a Jersey City cop shot and killed 20-year-old Lavon King, Johnson co-founded the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition.

The grassroots movement grew substantially over the next eight years, and organizers formed a regional nonprofit called the Anti-Violence Coalition of Hudson County, where Johnson is executive director.

“We’ve been in situations where we’re preventing and de-escalating and doing some type of mediation with different groups who are engaging in violence,” Johnson said. “I don’t like to say gangs. I say groups.”

Through the latter organization, the New Jersey government began a partnership to fund community and hospital-based violence intervention programs, or HVIPs.

At the beginning of 2020, the Murphy administration allocated $20 million in federal funds for grants to fund HVIPs and community-based violence intervention strategies.

This year, Murphy announced an additional $10 million for the initiative using American Rescue Plan funds, extending support for organizations.

“Earlier this year, I signed my comprehensive Gun Safety 3.0 package, which strengthened gun laws across our state, bringing us one step closer to a stronger, fairer, and safer New Jersey. Today’s continued funding of the Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program is another step toward that reality,” Murphy said in a statement.

In February, NJ.com reported that the Anti-Violence Coalition of Hudson County received a $500,000 grant.

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The Anti-Violence Coalition of Hudson County, which partners with Jersey City Medical Center, primarily provides case management services.

Johnson said that includes arranging wellness checks and therapeutic services; offering grocery store gift cards to food insecure residents, among other aid.

According to the North Jersey Record, predominantly Black and Hispanic places like Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Camden, and Trenton accounted for 62 % of shootings in the state, despite making up only 10% of the population.

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