Let’s face it. There is a segment of urban males whose behavior can only be characterized as uncivilized. They have no conflict resolution skills, cannot regulate their own behavior, and allow self-righteous anger to guide their decisions. In response to any perceived slight, these males take to the streets and start shooting. If they could shoot, these males would only hit their intended target. But since they can’t shoot, any innocent in the vicinity is at risk, including women and children. Among those shot during the past few weeks was a 5-year-old in the Bronx and a 2-year-old in Staten Island.
No amount of racism can excuse this behavior, although many race apologists try. Poverty is not the culprit, either. There are legions of poor people who do not use guns to traumatize their own community.
Marches don’t help; those males involved in gun violence don’t attend. Rallies don’t work; they aren’t listening. The problem is not genetic, but social. An intense social response is required. These unstable, high-risk males who seek to resolve conflict with illegal guns must be targeted for re-education and services.
Among all the initiatives seeking to end street gun violence, one has come closest to solving the problem: Man Up Inc!’s Cease Fire ENY.
Below is my report on Cease Fire ENY’s recent efforts.
Man Up Inc!’s Cease Fire ENY Team Reaches
100 Days of Peace!
In the midst of a violent, gory NYC summer, there was an oasis of peace. The summer of 2011 marks the first time in recent memory in which no shootings, stabbings, or killings occurred in what has historically been known as the most violent section of the 75th precinct. Man Up Inc!’s Cease Fire ENY Team has taken the blocks bounded by Sutter, Pennsylvania, New Lots and Hinsdale -- where 60% of the shootings took place in the 75th precinct last year -- and provided hope.
The community was very much aware of the days in which there were no shootings. Members of the community were literally walking around counting days with members of Man Up Inc!’s Cease Fire ENY Team. “Everybody was looking to get the number of days of peace up as high as it could possibly go,” said A.T. Mitchell, founder of Man Up Inc!.
The day count was broken at 101 days during the Labor Day weekend. Friday night into Saturday morning, one shooting occurred within Man Up Inc!’s catchment area. The next night another shooting occurred which resulted in a death. That particular incident was devastating for the family of the deceased as it was the third time that a family member had been killed by gun violence.
Mitchell said, “The shootings sent the community back into relapse in terms of trauma. The community had begun to experience a taste of peace and had just begun to get comfortable. These incidences send a community back into a state of depression.”
Yet, there is hope. Man Up Inc! has again begun counting days of no shootings or killings.
Man Up Inc! has a model that can be replicated in other communities.
Each member of Man Up Inc! has a caseload that is based upon certain criteria which is used to deem a person high risk. Based on the information garnered from trying to get to know the young people in the community, they assess them. If they meet Man Up Inc!’s criteria and are classified as high risk, that is when the relationship is established in a more formal manner. “Our outreach workers to help them get on their feet,” Mitchell said.
Man Up Inc!’s team members are from the community, which is their advantage. They are credible messengers. “Our model requires hiring people from the community,” Mitchell said. “They know the people in the community and the community knows them based on their credibility.”
“Because our people are of the community, we know who the high risk individuals could be. We literally scour the community for those people who are deemed high risk in our eyes,” said Mitchell. These are people would’ve been in prison before. Some of them are current members of street gangs or groups. Some have access to a weapon or fall within a particular age bracket. “We use all of these things to determine if a person is in our eyes high risk. We do pre-screenings in the street. If they meet our criteria, the relationship is established,” said Mitchell. “They do know that we are establishing a relationship with them with the intent of helping them help themselves.”
The participant knows the outreach worker has a job to do. “The job is to reach out to you, make contact, and pull you in to become part of my caseload to assist you going forward with the matters you say you need help with,” he said.
Man Up Inc! helps with employment, getting proper identification, setting up housing, and assisting participants with trying to get back in school or vocational training courses. “Sometimes there are family matters that are sometimes very small,” Mitchell said, “such as maybe their mom won’t let them back in the house because of issues they have. There are a lot of dynamics involved.”
The worker must have a minimum of nine contacts with each participant per week. “If one of our people has a caseload of 10 or 15 participants, you can imagine what kind of case management they are responsible for. It’s very intense,” Mitchell said. “Our workers have to maintain communication with them to build a relationship. Once we build a relationship and trust is established, now you can be able to do a lot more with them.”
During the last year Man Up Inc! had been working with 90 individuals. Currently they are managing 77 cases. “Our caseload has gone down because sometimes people move out of the neighborhood or sometimes we have to drop a participant because this is about a partnership,” Mitchell said. “We are not chasing behind you. You have to meet us where you are as well. You have to be willing to do some things. You can’t just not want to go get any resources, like go to a job fair. You can’t on a continuous basis be a no-show. You have to show interest.”
If Man Up Inc! finds that there was a participant who has been difficult to manage, they make a determination whether or not they should keep trying to extend ourselves to that person. “If they are involved in very violent activity, we tell them all the time ‘We will help you, but once you shoot that gun, there is nothing more we can really do for you, because you have actually violated our code,’” Mitchell said. “We stand for which reducing shootings and killings. At that point, you need a lawyer or a doctor or a mortician.”
“The whole idea of this is to get to them before they shoot the next person or before they commit the next acts of crime,” said Mitchell.
Originally published in Our Time Press, September 15, 2011.