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Save Our Streets Brooklyn violence interrupters
Attribution
Save Our Streets Brooklyn
Violence interrupters from Save Our Streets Brooklyn at a community event following shootings in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

Violence plagues our communities. Especially urban communities that are home to many Black and brown people. To foster more peace in these communities we need to address the causes of violence.

There are many solutions to community-based violence, but one main one is violence interrupters. This work goes to the heart of the Quaker Peace testimony by reducing violence in communities.

This work goes to the heart of the Quaker Peace testimony by reducing violence in communities.

These are communities that are so often forgotten, neglected, and underinvested in. We might not have redlining in city blocks anymore, but we know that people in these communities have difficulty getting loans to start businesses or buy a home. Sometimes the drug market is the best way out of poverty. With no small claims court for drug transactions, violence is often the primary recourse. There is also conflict in communities. This is normal. But the norms make violence a viable option.

When we don’t invest in these communities, violence occurs. The only solution currently being offered is a containment strategy involving the police. This can be fraught, as violence sometimes falls on these communities because of the police, with violence happening on both sides.

Violence interrupters aren’t a panacea for symptoms of the larger problems: classism and white supremacy. They can, however, be part of a virtuous cycle. They mitigate violence, offer alternatives, and avoid involving the police.  

What are violence interrupters?

Violence interrupters, or “credible messengers” as they’re sometimes called, identify those most likely to commit violence. They intercede, mentor, teach nonviolence, provide alternative thought processes, and alter the group norms that sustain or perpetuate violence. At the point of conflict, the violence interrupters will take the parties aside, try to resolve the conflict, and share how gun violence would affect the community and their families. It’s an active process of mediation and presenting alternatives.

Funding violence interrupters

Violence interrupters are a key part of the solution for reducing violence in all it’s forms, including police violence, gun violence, and interpersonal violence.

Violence interrupters are doing important work to reduce instances of violence, specifically gun violence, across communities. Unfortunately, they do not have federal funds directly supporting their work. The funding for these programs currently comes from community-based violence prevention program funds, or local, city, and state dollars.

It’s important to secure a permanent line of funding in the federal appropriations process for violence interrupters. Some programs in Baltimore, for instance, have had to float operations for months waiting for funds to come in. Creating a dedicated line of funding will provide more certainty and a steady cash-flow to these effective programs all around the country.

Listening to local leaders

To effectively do this work, we need to be listening to those on the ground, already working on these issues: Council people, city administrators, movement and nonprofit leaders. They have valuable expertise on how and why violence happens in communities, and specific strategies to address this violence.

For decades cities have relied on the old, policing-focused model for addressing community violence. That approach has repeatedly failed. Violence interrupters are a key part of the solution for reducing violence in all it’s forms, including police violence, gun violence, and interpersonal violence. Each are complicated and each require a varied approach. Well-resourced violence interrupters are a key tool to address this and prevent violence before it starts.

José Santos Woss

José Santos Woss

Director for Justice Reform
José is FCNL’s Director for Justice Reform. He leads FCNL’s work on criminal justice reform, election integrity, and policing.

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