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Greensboro community calls for Cure Violence model

Greensboro community members gathered to raise support for a community-led initiative called, Cure Violence, that will help reduce gun violence in the city. At the mic Starmecca Parham Greensboro resident. Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

A group of community members and leaders are calling for a new way to combat deadly violence in the city.

In response to three shootings on Monday, June 25 that left three people dead and one in critical condition, concerned citizens gathered at Prestige Barber College on Phillips Avenue on June 26 to generate support for a community-led initiative.

“I am heartbroken and angry at the same time about the lives lost. It seems that the only narrative is violence, and I believe this program will change that mindset,” said Gene Blackmon, director of Prestige Barber College. “We have to have healthy programs in place that are going to really deal with the mindset of those committing violence.”

The program is called Cure Violence, a national model that uses a public health approach to violence prevention. Founded by Dr. Gary Slutkin, a professor of epidemiology and international health at University of Illinois at Chicago, Cure Violence treats violence as a learned behavior that can be prevented using disease control methods.

Located in the heart of Northeast Greensboro, Prestige Barber College has served as the meeting place for the last eight months for community members and city leaders strategizing ways to address violence in the community. In March, Greensboro citizens and national Cure Violence representatives presented the idea to city and county leaders. Instead of over-policing an area, the program utilizes community members as violence interrupters, or people who are trained to intercept and mediate a violent situation; and as community outreach workers, where individuals act as mentors to connect people to resources. The program also promotes changing violence norms in communities through public education and community activities.

Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott said he is familiar with the Cure Violence program, and welcomes the community approach.

“As part of a holistic plan to reduce violence, I think that we as a police department and me as police chief, I accept anyone who is willing to help in regard to that,” Scott said.

In June, representatives from the national Cure Violence team in Chicago, Ill., and Bull City United (BCU), the site team from Durham, N.C., met with Greensboro City leaders and community members to answer questions about the program. During the visit, the national team also assisted Greensboro representatives in a three-day assessment of the city, which included identification of possible target areas, an analysis of Greensboro crime statistics, and meetings with community members to create a plan of action for Greensboro.

“We want to get ahead of the narrative of violence in our community. We’re not here to vilify the community, but to challenge this notion that our community is more pathological or sick than any other community here in Greensboro,” said CJ Brinson, community organizer and youth pastor at Faith Community Church.

The group also called on members of the Greensboro City Council, the Guilford County Commissioners and local non-profits, to fully fund a “Cure Violence” effort so that the messengers can get to work championing the immediate need for peace in the community. According to the Web site, The Cure Violence Health Model has been replicated in U.S. cities with high crime rates such as Chicago, New York and Baltimore. Cure Violence officials say it takes between $200,000 and $400,000 to fund a program with at least two target sites and a staff of eight to 10 people.

District 1 Greensboro City Council member, Sharon Hightower voiced her support for the program and the community’s desire to implement this program.

“There is a commitment from my end to fund this. It is very troubling to me that the violence going on in our community is not being addressed, so we have to begin addressing it as an epidemic situation. That’s what the Cure Violence program will do,” Hightower said.

The Greensboro Police Department (GPD) reported more than 1,400 gun crimes last year. They also reported 33 incidents this month involving a gun and injuries. The total number of homicides in the city so far stands at 18, with 10 of those unsolved.

District 7 Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said the board of commissioners is waiting to get a detailed report on the assessment completed by the national Cure Violence team.

“We definitely support it. We’re just waiting on more information on how we can be a part of this,” said Coleman.

Greensboro residents, Starmecca Parham and her cousin Ingram Bell shared personal stories about being survivors of gun violence. Parham lost her brother to gun violence in October 2016, and said for a long time she was angry and withdrawn from friends and family. Parham noted the Cure Violence model provides people who can provide emotional support to grieving families.

“My generation is mad. They’re mad at the lack of resources, they’re mad at losing friends and family,” said Parham. “But it means something to have a person that understands where you’re coming from, and can come to you and say, ‘it’s going to be okay’ because they know how you feel.”

Bell survived a gun shot to the head in 2011. She said she believes that if violence interrupters had been in place prior to Monday’s shootings in Greensboro, things might have turned out differently.

“The role of violence interrupters are to be on the ground daily, not just when something happens. Retaliation is not an option at this point. Only way to heal our community is by standing up and coming together,” said Bell. “There is something else to do than picking up a gun and shooting someone.”