A team of dedicated “violence interrupters” will be walking through the streets of East New York on New Year’s Eve handing out books to local youth declaring, “Less bullets, more books.”
The group, Operation SNUG/Ceasefire East New York Brooklyn, is taking their mission to stop the violence and embrace the youth to another level. Their nightly patrols through the city’s toughest neighborhood will not stop even when most people are ringing in the New Year.
“It’s a peace march throughout the East New York neighborhood, labeled by the media as the deadliest area on New Year’s Eve, on December 31 2010,” announced A.T. Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of Man Up Inc. “Ceasefire East New York Brooklyn will be leading the peace march throughout East New York at 6 p.m. from the Man Up Inc. Crime Prevention Center at 530 Sutter Avenue [between Hinsdale Street and Williams Avenue]. All people interested in participating are asked to bring influential books that build consciousness and motivate young people to feel empowered and inspired. Our goal is to build a community collation that will commit to working in 2011 all year-round to combat gun violence.”
According to the latest NYPD crime statistics, released last week, two out of three victims of city homicides are Black. The CompStat figures show that in a majority Black and Brown city, 67 percent of murder victims are Black, while 25 percent are Latino. Whites make up 4 percent.
Mitchell notes that in the ‘hood he patrols with Ceasefire ENY and Operation SNUG, most crime and murders occur on Saturdays. CompStat cites 89 murders. Guns were used in 62 percent of all murders.
It pains but does not surprise Mitchell that with 30 murders, East New York’s 75th Precinct is the deadliest.
Noting, not gloating, Mitchell told the AmNews that while the homicide total was 476 as of last week (compared to 2009’s 470), East New York went an entire month without a single shooting.
While the NYPD credits buy-and-bust operations and the infiltration of drug trafficking organizations, Mitchell determined that outreach and being in the street is the real solution.
“As of Tuesday afternoon, we have had 30 days with no shootings or killings in our target area of 40 blocks from Hinsdale Street and Sutter Avenue over to Jerome and Sutter back down to New Lots Avenue. I attribute it to our new initiative: Operation SNUG/Ceasefire East New York Brooklyn. It is the first of its kind in this neck of the woods, and it is modeled on Ceasefire Chicago, a violence prevention initiative.
“We have been trained by Ceasefire Chicago, We have undergone over 40 hours of intensive training in violence prevention. We had to pass an exam, and then we sought training from the Bed-Stuy Volunteer Ambulance Corp in CPR, first aid and disaster relief. We are now 10 certified first responders.”
Trained in early September, certified in October, “we really just went on the street in November, and the minute we hit the street talking to the people, we were immediately able to reach that target population–and that is the real reason we’ve a seen such a drastic drop in the shootings and the killings.”
Two killings a week in the 75th Precinct would not be an unusual phenomenon in past days, said the father and homegrown hero, who “lives and works” in this area. “According to CompStat, this is where over 60 percent of the shootings and killings occur.”
The reasons for the high crime rate include “poverty–and because this where there is most need,” said Mitchell, adding, “A criminal element probably does exist here too with drug dealing and gangs, but there is a great deal of unemployment.”
In an effort to tackle inner-city violence, a couple of years ago, state elected officials John Sampson, Eric Adams and Malcolm Smith met with concerned activists and community residents and leaders and came up with Operation SNUG–the word “guns” spelled backwards.
This initiative was to consist of:
S treet intervention and stopping the violence with violence interrupters and law enforcement
N ational state local funding support, funding for all alternatives and legislation to help implement solutions
U se of celebrities and community centers,
G angs, guns, gainful employment; real-world gang awareness and prevention initiatives with connections to employment and economic alternatives
This is statewide initiative, Mitchell explained, where eight counties and 10 cities received funding to “hopefully reduce the violence in their respective counties. We were able to hire credible messengers–people from the community who have been selected by a hiring panel to work in the target areas as outreach workers and violence interrupters. Each county got $500,000 and our organization was chosen to represent Kings County, Brooklyn.
“With a little bit of money to tackle a huge problem, we have been able to flood the target area with education material and host community activities, and work during the same nighttime hours when most violent crimes are being committed. It has been proven that you can be effective by putting people from target areas to work in that target area, with the goal in mind to reach those most likely to commit these violent crimes–to reach them and help them, and to be able to counsel them and assist them with access to certain resources and help them with their personal issues.”
Seeing 10 local residents patrolling the street every night and engaging young people is something East New Yorkers are about to get used to, said Mitchell. “We really do a lot of community patrolling or canvassing where we get more familiar with the individuals and different groups who live in the target area, who are high risk. We pattern our work schedule around when they are out, so we do 4 p.m. ’til midnight or 6 p.m. ’til 2 p.m, like work shifts.
“We have identifiable uniforms on during the nighttime hours and patrol the same dangerous, rough streets as the NYPD, but our intent and perspectives are different. Our goal is to reach them before they commit another violent act on the general public. Our goal is to help that population. We have a strong presence on the street combined with our educational campaign and work with other leaders–elected officials, religious leaders, business owners–and with law enforcement to understand our way of addressing crime in the community.”
And then there is the car. Mitchell drives a souped-up Dodge Charger with pictures of two children saying, “Don’t Shoot.”
“We put an anti-crime vehicle on the street, with an anti-violence design–with which we disseminate our public education literature, which is the Don’t Shoot New York campaign,” said Mitchell. “We have that wrapped around the vehicle and it becomes a mobile billboard. With the car and our after-school and summer school programs, we want to promote positive images and the idea that our young people can grow up to be productive members of society.”
Man Up Inc. held a fundraiser last week and Operation SNUG Mount Vernon came down to support them “to show that we have that sort of unity. There are also groups in Queens and Harlem.”
Mitchell concluded though, “Unfortunately, things don’t look as bright as they should because the state grant has been slashed from $4 million to $2 million, which means that this will have a huge impact on every county that received funding, which can impact the number of shootings and killings,” said Mitchell, throwing down a challenge. “Since the state Senate has already showed us its commitment and done its part, perhaps the Assembly and the City Council can come to the rescue and help increase our resources since neither body has a violence prevention initiative in place on this level.”