With criminal homicide in Indiana spiking a staggering 39 percent in 2020, many Hoosiers wonder what in the world can we do to stop the violence–or even slow it down. The Indy Public Safety Foundation believes they might have a solution: introduce “violence interrupters” to at-risk communities.
Violence interrupters are respected community members who help persuade gang members and other at-risk young people to turn away from violence for conflict resolution. Although Indiana trains them for this role, an interrupter’s true training comes from having grown up on the streets of the community that they’re helping. Their life experience, sometimes even as former gang members or leaders, makes them uniquely qualified to understand conflict from an at-risk youth’s perspective, establish trusting relationships, and help young people identify more peaceful solutions.
Indianapolis is currently training six interrupters, including Shane Shepherd, CEO of the nonprofit B4UFALL. Shephard hopes to target youth who are on the brink of falling into serious trouble and a violent lifestyle but have not yet done so. As he explained to WishTV.com: “We want to catch you before you end up in the justice system because, truth be told, some people are destined for that, because there’s no turning them. We want to turn the turnable ones.”
The city hopes that the interrupters will form strong, one-on-one relationships with residents at the highest risk of turning to violence. The job can be dangerous, as it can involve the interrupter positioning themselves in the middle of heated or potentially violent situations. But it’s a necessary risk.
Shepherd explains it this way: “Say I show up and you’ve been having a situation with your baby mama. She put you out twice and I know this. That’s where I come in and say ‘Check this out, you know I can help get you a place to stay. I’m coming, giving something, in order to give you more.’
Shonna Majors, director of community violence reduction for the city government, says that violence interrupters have already saved lives and that the city is hoping to grow the team. The program officially began in early February 2021.
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