Later this week, more than a dozen young men suspected of being Central Richmond’s most violent offenders will be sitting around a table at the city’s civic center. They will be surrounded by Richmond residents, community leaders, clergy, law enforcement, and the District Attorney in an effort to engage them in a conversation about ending gang violence in the city.
“We’re trying to hit the community where we’re hemorrhaging the most, and that’s these young men,” said Pastor Henry Washington at a planning session last week. Washington is a core member of Ceasefire/Lifelines to Healing—a renowned violence prevention program set to launch in Richmond later this week.
Ceasefire is a nationally recognized, anti-violence initiative designed to curb gun violence through coordinated efforts between city, county and state partners. Though Ceasefire is new to Richmond, there is nothing new about the program. It started in Boston in the mid-1990′s to combat gang-violence; it has since been tested out in more than 50 cities across the county.
California has about a dozen cities with a Ceasefire program including Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Oakland. Studies have shown positive results in cities that adopt the model. According to one study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Stockton saw a 50 percent drop in homicides and shootings after starting Ceasefire a decade ago. But when the city discontinued the program, the murder rate climbed back up.
The centerpiece of Ceasefire is the “call-in.” There, the young men who’ve been singled out by police and city agencies as the ones most responsible for violence on the city’s streets will be put in the spotlight and told to stop the violence or face the consequences.
The idea is to show these young men—who will attend as a condition of their parole or probation—that the city is united in standing up against shootings and violence in Richmond. City agencies and community volunteers will be on hand to offer services that some of the young men might be interested in obtaining like life-skills training, GED credentials, job training, driver’s licenses, child support planning, and mental health services.
If that is the carrot, then law enforcement is the stick. Richmond police officers, together with parole and probation officers and the District Attorney will let the young men know that they are not invisible and that the city is determined to coordinate and crack down if the men decide to continue the gang violence that has plagued Richmond for years.
In addition to the call-in, Ceasefire partners have been holding weekly night walks, where community members canvass neighborhoods prone to violence and try to get residents informed and involved in the program.
At the planning meeting last week, some 60 Ceasefire partners and Richmond residents gathered in a basement room in the Civic Center to discuss plans for the upcoming call-in. Many organizers pointed out how much Richmond has learned from the mistakes or failures of other cities’ Ceasefire programs.
Lavern Vaughn, a Ceasefire partner from the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, cited one lesson learned from a call-in in North Carolina. Police officers were seated up on a platform, separate and above the young men, she said. “We have to get rid of their feeling of being disrespected. The whole purpose is to change that perception and make the participants feel loved. We want to do it in a way that stresses love, acceptance, and accountability,” said Vaughn.
Partners from nearby cities also stressed that Ceasefire is neither a job placement program nor a “promise mill.” “Don’t start off promising. You have to be there. Give your phone number. But don’t promise employment, because it ain’t out there,” said one Ceasefire adviser from Oakland. “If you don’t follow up and follow through, most of what’s happening in this room doesn’t matter.”
Those at the meeting agree that it’s not just about scaring the young men straight, or showering them with love—though program members stress the importance of speaking to the young men with respect and compassion. The call-in is also a way to provide these young men with a viable excuse when they’re pressured to carry out violence, they said.
“It gives them an excuse that you can’t find in the flatlands. ‘I’m not going to shoot him, you do it. I just got back from a meeting and they know who I am,’” said one speaker at the training session.
Following the call-in in Central Richmond, a second meeting will take place in North Richmond for the young men from that neighborhood believed to be committing most of the area’s violence. The two separate call-ins are being held to avoid direct confrontations between young men who live in the rival neighborhoods of Central and North Richmond.
“The focus is on the violence, though we’re offering more, we aren’t asking for more,” said Pastor Washington.
For more information, contact Pastor Henry Washington at 510-260-1006 or Adam Kruggel of CCISCO at 510-872-3085.