Men vow to stop shooting, start living

Posted at 11:46 PM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-02 23:46:40-04

Saint Peter Claver Catholic Church in West Baltimore, a repurposed convent, has become home to a group of repurposed men focused on a singular vow - stop shooting start living.

It is this newest chapter of Safe Streets Baltimore, a city health department program employing reformed men from the very streets they once ruled. They use the sins of their past to convince the corners of today. 

Once feared, now respected, they use both to interrupt violence and teach opportunity. Greg Marshburn supervises seven violence interrupters. 

"You'll see shortly, very respected in the community," he said. "We are not going to go anywhere where no body don't know them. They were not only chosen for what they had done, they were also chosen for what they were still doing."

Marshburn's seven violence interrupters in Safe Streets Sandtown, the most at any of the now five chapters around Baltimore. It is heavier lifting in 21217, Freddie Gray's Baltimore.

Safe Streets Sandtown was launched in March in part with federal grant money received after the riots of last year.

Still less than two months in existence, the nightly canvasses are to see, be seen and mediate in a neighborhood still charred from the white hot anger of last year.

"Pre unrest and post unrest, I think the primary causes are the same,” said Site Director Imhotep Fatiu, “I think the only thing that the unrest showed us was that people were fed up at that particular time, but I think people still have those same concerns that led to that. The poverty, the impoverishment, the lack of resources that come into the community, it is those types of things that play a part into that...and that still exists."

Abject poverty is visible on just about every street in police post 731, Safe Street's borders on the city's west side.

Violence here is also a stubborn symptom.

From January through April 28th, there have already been 6 shootings and 3 homicides, well outpacing 2014 and 2015 over the same time frame.

The issues in this small corner of Baltimore are persistent but some change is visible, as noticeable with the bright orange shirts walking down Pennsylvania Avenue.

"Each one of these guys, in their own right can go into specific areas of this 21217 and they can connect and it is that connection that we need to allow us to do the work that we have to do to keep our violence down," Fatiu said.

In just more than a month's time, Safe Streets Sandtown has already conducted 18 mediations.

They track them by computer with multiple data points which gives the health department more information to evaluate the program. The most important of which still remains the likelihood of violence if not for a Safe Streets mediation.

Of Sandtown's 18 cases all went in the system as “very likely” to have resulted in a shooting.

"This is one of the places that I did what I did. So now I am back trying to give back, trying to do something different and show some of the people around here that violence is not the key, violence is not the answer," said Violence Interrupter Lamont Medley.

Medley pulled his trigger in 1997. He served his time and now is serving his conscience.

He is out on a canvass every night convincing others of another way, replacing their need with resources like GED classes, jobs; the tools for the right path.

"The kids coming up tend to respect the guys who have been through those challenges because that is where they get it from. So when they see us changing our lives, they say wow we can't go that route because if this person changed his life and he don’t wanna do this, then why should I want to do that," he said. 

It is a message that in just a month's time, some here say is already resonating in, around and straight through Freddie Gray's Gilmor Homes.

"I am glad it's around,” one resident told us, “[I] wish it could have been around couple years back. Maybe a lot of stuff that happened didn't happen, but they definitely good for the community. I support them 100 percent."

The alternative is marked all along the walk in Mylar balloons and teddy bears, make shift memories of those killed on these streets

None more prolific than the memorial to Freddie Gray.

It is a pain still fresh a year later, a wound these men know has not healed but determined to help this community grow past it.

"We are going to do our best this year to make sure it doesn't mean the same as it did last year. We are going to give it a different face, a different meaning," Marshburn said.

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