Atlantic-affiliated outlet CityLab recently took notice of a novel violence-prevention group in Baltimore. They’re called Safe Streets, and they treat violence like a disease. They seek to interrupt it at its source, ensuring that those exposed to it don’t spread it to others.
What that means is “violence interrupters” — people with ties to a given neighborhood, street cred, and often their own criminal histories — walk neighborhoods “like beat cops.” But unlike cops, they’re not looking to get anyone in trouble for anything. They only want to seek out those most likely to commit violence and dissuade them.
Safe Streets staffers Dante Barksdale and Greg Marshburn have backgrounds that give them access to neighborhoods that police could never achieve. Barksdale formerly dealt bad heroin, which got him eight years in prison, and his uncle was the inspiration for the Wire character Avon Barksdale. Marshburn did prison time for attempted murder and robbery and was himself shot and stabbed multiple times. Most importantly, he refused to identify his various attackers to police.
When they’re trying to convince a drug dealer not to kill a rival, they’ll ask him a question like “Who’s going to raise your kids?” or argue that shooting someone in the neighborhood will bring a police presence that will hamper his drug dealing.
And there are real numbers to demonstrate Safe Streets’ effectiveness. This year alone it has defused 685 conflicts in the city. Of those 685, 624 were “deemed ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to have resulted in a shooting.”
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