Honoring the Lives of Community Violence Intervention Workers
Nearly 13,500 lives are lost to gun homicides in the United States every year.
This threat is particularly apparent for Black and Brown Americans, who make up less than a third of the total population but account for nearly three-quarters of all gun homicide victims.
There is real hope to reverse the tragic trend. Community violence intervention programs across the US aim to address this crisis by focusing resources on the small fraction of the population at highest risk for engaging in deadly violence. Strategies like group violence intervention, relationship-based street outreach, and hospital-based violence intervention programs have contributed to significantly cutting gun homicide rates in cities in as little as two years.
The individuals powering these programs—violence intervention workers—are often the cornerstone of their communities. These are the leaders you don’t hear enough about. The leaders who earn the trust of people facing a desperate situation with nowhere else to go. The leaders who know and care about every family in the area and drop everything to help.
The work they do is essential. It makes a real difference in saving lives. And it can also put these workers in dangerous situations. When a violence intervention worker loses their life to the gun violence they are fighting to disrupt, entire communities are spun into a cycle of collective mourning.
We must lift the voices of violence intervention workers and remember those who died doing the work they cared so much about. This blog post is dedicated to honoring the lives of four community violence intervention workers who passed in the last year.
Caleb Reed—Chicago, IL
Caleb Reed was a teen activist and visionary who sought to transform his Chicago community. He worked closely with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, a coalition of groups fighting for racial justice in education.
Members of the coalition viewed him as ambitious and full of potential. Caleb also yearned to change the way young Black men are treated and perceived. Alongside the group Good Kids Mad City, he and others fought for the removal of police officers from Chicago Public Schools and urged funding for mental health professionals in schools.
Caleb was shot and killed last summer months before his senior year of high school. His death sent shockwaves throughout his entire community. Chicago lost a “freedom fighter” in Caleb.
Lorraine Thomas–Washington, DC
Lorraine “Cyhnia” Thomas was a change agent in her Southeast DC community at only 21 years old. Community members say Lorraine had a “light and a glow” and was eager to help restore peace.
She volunteered with the DC activist group, Alliance of Concerned Men (ACM) which operates a violence interrupter program to mediate neighborhood conflict. Lorraine said in an interview with an ACM member months before her death that if there was anything she could change about her community it would be the violence.
In summer 2020, Lorraine helped broker a truce over several Zoom calls between two men in a section of Washington Highlands—an area that went 100 days without a single shooting thanks in part to Lorraine tireless efforts. Lorraine was fatally shot months after her courageous work. A group of mothers in Southeast DC came together after her murder to call for an end to gun violence.
Dante Barksdale–Baltimore, MD
Dante Barksdale was a Safe Streets Outreach Coordinator who worked vigorously to prevent gun violence in his Baltimore community. Dante learned conflict mediation strategies as a teenager in a Washington DC jail and later as an incarcerated adult.
The Safe Streets Program that Dante worked in was staffed by people like him who are familiar with the street culture that often leads to violence. Dante used his familiarity with neighborhood strife to foster relationships with at-risk-youth and help them resolve conflicts. In Baltimore he was known as the “peacekeeper in the bright orange T-shirt”, a nod to shirts worn by Safe Streets violence interrupters.
Gun violence was an inescapable part of Dante’s past and present. He lost countless friends and family members throughout his life. In January, Dante himself was murdered. His death has profoundly impacted the community leaders and city officials who knew and loved him. Dante’s friends and family expressed their grief publicly as they mourned the loss of a man who dedicated his life to gun violence prevention.
Hamid Abd-Al-Jabbar–Milwaukee, WI
Hamid Abd-Al-Jabbar was a gun violence prevention activist in Milwaukee who worked as an outreach coordinator for the community-driven anti-violence group 414Life. The group takes a public health approach to violence prevention and is powered by individuals like Hamid who want to build a safer, healthier community.
Hamid’s difficult past informed his work as a violence interrupter. At 19 he was convicted of homicide and spent decades incarcerated. He emerged as a community advocate who helped formerly incarcerated individuals gain employment and provided essential resources to gun violence survivors. His lived experiences gave him credibility in the peace-building movement.
Hamid is remembered as a “fearless, humble and effective leader.” He died this month of a suspected drug overdose. Hamid struggled for peace throughout his adult life and profoundly impacted the lives of so many in his community.
Their Presence is Irreplaceable
Caleb Reed, Lorraine Thomas, Dante Barksdale, and Hamid Abd-Al-Jabbar will be remembered as fearless leaders who worked to build violence-free communities.
It requires grit and determination to pursue violence intervention work despite how dangerous and under-funded these efforts can be. Covid-19 presents additional challenges to violence intervention work, as restrictions have been placed on in-person outreach and programs have experienced budget cuts. Groups like the Los Angeles Intervention Coalition and Maryland Violence Prevention Coalition are helping lead the push for more violence intervention funding.
We must protect and uplift violence intervention workers, who are doing everything in their power to end gun violence in America.
Levar Stoney—Oct 21, 2020
Giffords Lauds Maryland Senate for Voting to Override Veto of SB708 and Support Community Violence Intervention Strategies
Jan 15, 2021
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