The city is working diligently to prevent crimes in the Black communities by setting up a training program. (Photo Courtesy)

By Samuel Williams, Jr.,
Special to the AFRO

D.C. is not defunding the police. 

However, the city is sending in new crime fighters to work alongside the police in communities prone to violence here in the District and in a host of cities throughout America this summer. 

So Southeast, D.C. – welcome the Violence Interrupters. 

Who? What, you say? How will violence interrupters work in ways that our current police force does not?  Who are they anyway and how will they be trained? How will this work? 

When Lashonia Thompson-El, executive director for Peace for D.C. and interim director for the D.C. Peace Academy, breaks the concept down, it all makes sense. 

“Everybody knows everybody in high-risk communities, Thompson-El said. “Being able to get the community to identify these individuals [without] endangering their own safety is critical.”

Peace for D.C. invests in proven solutions to prevent and interrupt the cycle of violence that plagues the District’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Driven by research and data, and through strategically enhancing community capacity, Peace for D.C. amplifies and accelerates The D.C. Government’s gun violence reduction efforts, as well as the efforts of the community to reduce violence.  

Thompson-El said D.C. Peace Academy is a new tool in the arsenal of Peace for D.C. Launched in May, the Academy provides structured training for D.C.’s frontline violence interrupters. The new Academy is providing training for an initial cohort of 25 experienced community violence intervention workers.

“Violence interrupters don’t profile to get anyone arrested,” Thompson-El said. 

The point for violence interrupters is to get to that person who may be prone to commit violence before the tragedy happens; before blood is shed. 

[A] violence interrupters’ goal is to diffuse potential violence and help at-risk individuals to get the help they need so they can bypass the legal system,” Thompson-El continued. 

The D.C. Peace Academy focuses on the personal and professional development of D.C.’s peacemakers. These individuals will serve as frontline workers working in neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence using a public health approach to reduce shootings and homicides.  

Public health approaches to reducing shootings means establishing trust and developing relationships with people who are prone to utilize violence and meeting underlying financial, employment, educational,  and housing needs, according to Daniel W. Webster, health policy researcher and the director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University.    

D.C. Peace Academy curriculum includes 13 weeks of training for frontline workers and is taught by local experts and practitioners. This evidence-based curriculum will supplement the training provided by the D.C.-based Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is the chief legal officer of the District of Columbia OAG, and other government programs, in order to advance the skills and careers of our essential workers. 

“It is our goal to replace the existing prison industrial complex that inflicts financial and emotional drama within their prison system,” Thompson-El said. “Then when these prisoners are released they bring unhealed trauma back to the community.”

Students attending D.C. Peace Academy were selected from various D.C.-based grassroots organizations and training components first aid for injury tunicate and wrapping wounds with gauze; cognitive behavior therapy; how to teach community members to express emotions in a positive manner; public speaking and community event organization.

“It is our goal to replace the existing prison industrial complex that inflicts financial and emotional drama within their prison system,” Thompson-El said. 

“Then when these prisoners are released they bring unhealed trauma back to the community,” she added.

Professionals who work in the field of violence interruption, like Thompson-El, Daniel Webster and others said this compound, unhealed trauma combined with a myriad of unmet needs within a community create the conditions for the powder keg acts of violence that we are seeing in communities across the nation. 

Mayors like Brandon Scott, of neighboring Baltimore, support the use of violence interrupters alongside police.  Scott and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser are two members of a 15-city federal committee testing the effectiveness of violence interrupters this summer. 

“There are situations that the police just aren’t going to be able to get to in time,” he said, clarifying the role of violence interrupters.

“Having people on the ground in neighborhoods, who have relationships with those people who are most prone to commit violence, is the only way you are going to effectively intervene – before something happens,” Scott continued.  

This is the first in a three-part series on Violence Interrupters in D.C. this summer. Stay tuned for part two of this series in the June 30 edition of the AFRO. 

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