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Credible Messengers: Baltimore’s Violence Interrupters Confront Shootings, the Coronavirus, and Corrupt Cops

Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, believes there are productive ways for police and violence interrupters to work together.

by Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg
The Intercept
July 26, 2020

Safe Streets workers walk past a mural of Freddie Gray, painted by the artist Nether, in Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore in 2016. Photo: Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

… Violence interruption, created in Chicago by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin in 2000, views gun violence through an epidemiological lens and tries to prevent it with public health approaches. Because the program views violence as contagious, its methods are similar to those, like contact tracing, used to track outbreaks of Covid-19.

…Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, believes there are productive ways for police and violence interrupters to work together. “The correspondence and coordination with law enforcement needs to be at the very upper reaches and should be confidential … and they should talk about things like, ‘in this neighborhood … something’s brewing,’” he told The Intercept. “But they undermine it by saying ‘Who are the leaders in that? Give me some names.’”

Now that alternatives to policing offer a serious budgetary threat to the law enforcement model of violence prevention, violence interruption programs have become more formidable competitors.

“Law enforcement people actually do engage in this fantasy that crime goes up and down because of them,” Butts said. “So they would undermine the program just to maintain their own ideological dominance and perception of the community that they’re in charge.”

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