Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union, said most of the New Jersey protests he attended in the wake of the police custody death of George Floyd were fair, emotional and nonviolent. But similar protests in other states have turned violent, even fatal, the latest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week.

To Holley, violence should not be the answer to violence. He would instead like the spirit of the protests to spark a discussion of how to head off violence in the first place, and has introduced a bill in Trenton to create a state Division of Violence Prevention and Intervention.

The office would be overseen by the Department of Law and Public Safety, under the state attorney general, and prosecutors in each of New Jersey's 21 counties would appoint their own local coordinators.

Holley said the idea is especially timely at this moment in history.

"It utilizes the energy that is out there right now, especially a lot with these protests, to now engage them in government and working on legislation," he said. "That's the impetus of the bill, the purpose of the bill, to try to engage people, from preventing them to do violence in our communities."

The assemblyman envisions the new government agency working closely with anti-violence advocates, clergy and even ex-offenders who are willing to take on mentorship roles, and said some of those distinct groups have already offered their support.

"I see this as an opportunity for engaging not only government, but also activists and those that are out there protesting," Holley said.

Specific goals for the Division of Violence Prevention and Intervention, according to Holley, are creating a directory of violence prevention services, identifying vacant properties that can be used to house anti-violence programs, and focusing on youth violence and suicide prevention in community outreach efforts.

Holley wants to expedite the bill through the legislative process, and expects it to receive wide, bipartisan support.

"With the uptick in violence in our communities, especially during the COVID pandemic, I thought that this was a timely piece of legislation," he said.

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