Waiting for Violence to Break Out in East New York

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by Stephen Nessen, August 11, 2016

East New York, Brooklyn has the highest number of shooting deaths in New York City this year with 6, and 10 other types of homicides. But there’s a 40-block radius on the border with Brownsville where there hasn’t been a shooting since February, and there hasn’t been a fatal shooting since November 2014.

The community-based, anti-violence group Man Up! believes it deserves credit for the streak.

“We’re just grateful that we’re able to appreciate and embrace the days we have that no one has been shot or killed in the areas in which we work in,” said Timothy Washington, an outreach worker with Man Up!.

The group uses the Cure Violence model of preventing crime by treating it like a public health crisis. That means hosting community events, like basketball games for kids in the summer. But it also means intervening when there’s a conflict before it spools out of control. Man Up! has an office at Kings County Hospital so its outreach workers can be on scene to make sure one violent incident doesn’t trigger another.

“Like, right now, if somebody calls in the hospital, ‘Brother Kenny we got a shooting, stabbing, or assault victim with lots of kids here, a lot of teenagers’ we try to get in their mind before they start talking crazy,” said Kenny Watson, another Man Up! outreach worker. “Buy some time, and hopefully we can get through some type of mediation before it goes further.”

Man Up! was founded by Andre Mitchell a decade ago. In addition to actively interrupting violence, his group operates facilities to support the community, including a day care center, a job training site and a café run by local teenagers.

“All our lives, for most of us, we never knew what it was like to operate from a service counter or a business. We’ve always been the consumers,” Mitchell said. “These young people here now are learning what it’s like to be on the other side of the counter.”

Outside the café, near where Mitchell grew up, he can’t go two minutes without someone shouting out the window of a car, or stopping him for a handshake or fist bump. For his community-based program to function, he said he needs buy-in from the community.

“It makes me feel like it’s building a safer environment,” said Shynise Morris, 21, who grew up in East New York. “Say, if kids would walk to the bus stop to not fight on the school premises, [Man Up! outreach workers] would follow them to the bus stop, and stop the fights.”

Maintaining that trust with the community can put Man Up! at odds with the police.

“We don’t divulge matters that we work hard on to the police, and the police know that about us,” Mitchell said. “We’re not sharing information that may be helpful in some sort of investigation. That’s not or role.”

That code of silence lead to the demise of a Cure Violence group in Chicago, according to Jeffrey Butts, director of the research and evaluation center at John Jay College.

“The precinct can feel aggrieved to find out this whole episode of violence that just happened was known, that people knew that it was about to happen and no one told the police,” Butts said.

In a statement, the NYPD said the commanding officer and Neighborhood Coordination Officers have, “a strong and collaborative working relationship with” Man Up!.

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