Florissant resident Corion Love, 15, understands why young people often get involved in selling drugs.
“They’re trying to make some money to help their mama,” Love told the St. Louis American. “Some mamas are struggling, and they don’t got good jobs to pay all the bills. So, they get on the block to help out.”
Getting fast money on “the block” is the only thing some young people feel like they can do to earn money, he said. Fifty percent of all homicides in the City of St. Louis are drug related, said St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden, and low-level drug activity also contributes to a majority of gun violence as well.
“The only way to stop all this violence is to go around to the corners and hand out jobs,” Love said. “That’s the only way to keep them off the streets because they aren’t going to keep off the streets if they have no money in their pockets.”
Love got into some trouble of his own this year. But for the past couple weeks, Love has spent every day with Darren Seals, a former drug dealer and now a youth mentor with Sankofa Unity Center. Love even accompanied Seals to the Cure Violence informational meeting on Sept. 12 evening, hosted by the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR) and Organization for Black Struggle (OBS). The community meeting was held at the Deaconess Foundation.
The Cure Violence model — which treats violence as an epidemic outbreak and therefore a public health issue — is active in more than 25 cities throughout the world. The idea is to employ local residents who have respect, often ex-convicts, on the streets to prevent gun violence by de-escalating potentially violent situations before they happen.
At the meeting, someone in the audience asked how they are going to find people to act as the Cure Violence “interrupters,” or the people who go out and cool down deadly disputes.
Although Love is still in high school, he heard about the program and wanted to sign up right away.
“Being still young, I could reach kids more than someone who is 40 or 50 years old,” Love said. “The only people who can fix the streets are the people who messed it up. But fixing the streets is harder than you think. It’s not going to happen after a week.”
At the meeting, community organizers talked about the three-day assessment that Cure Violence trainer Marcus McAllister performed of St. Louis in June, which was paid for by CAPCR and OBS. The Cure Violence model established sites in target neighborhoods of about 15,000 people. The two neighborhoods that caught McAllister’s eye were the Greater Ville and Dutchtown — both which have had a stark increase in gun activity since last year. They expect necessary contracts to be signed by October, and then the pre-implementation committee — comprised of a mix of elected officials, the health director and a few community advocates — will begin meeting. In November, the target sites should be confirmed, hiring should be completed and training should start, organizers said. The program should launch in January 2020.
Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, introduced a bill on Sept. 13 to commit $8 million over three years to funding Cure Violence.
On Sept. 24, the aldermanic Public Safety Committee unanimously passed the bill — but for the amended amount of $5 million. At the committee hearing, members of the audience voiced concern about the decrease in funding. However, Reed explained that on Sept. 17, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved $1.5 million for the program, and the Board of Aldermen approved $500,000 in July, as part of the regular budget process. They will have a couple years to secure the last $1 million.
Reed said he amended his bill to pull from different funding sources because, “It takes any argument out of anyone who said that we can’t do it because we can’t afford it.”
Reed also said that it’s important to have three years of funding because he doesn’t want it just to be a “pilot program.”
The bill states that there have been 138 homicides in 2019, and there were 186 murders in 2018 — 93.6 percent of them were committed with a gun.
“Cure Violence is proven to reduce shootings and killings dramatically in urban settings in just one year,” the bill states. “Cities such as Philadelphia saw a 30 percent reduction in shootings, Baltimore had a 56 percent reduction in killings and 34 percent in shootings; and in New York City, there was a 63 percent reduction in shootings in one year; according to the New York City Police Department, an East New York neighborhood utilizing the Cure Violence program saw 1,000 days without a homicide.”
Reed invited several people to speak in support of the bill, including Dr. Randall Jotte, an emergency physician at Barnes Jewish Hospital. When shooting victims are brought into the emergency room, his role is to speak to the patients while the surgeons are preparing. He explained that when they are so close to death, there is an opportunity to reach them and offer them an alternative.
“A couple days down the road, the cycle of violence continues,” Jotte said. “If there is a program to intervene, where you can maintain that hope, it can be very impactful.”
Reed explained that the Cure Violence interrupters would be dispatched to the hospital when they hear about a shooting to engage the victim, as well as to meet with family members and friends to prevent retaliation.
Another speaker was Jeanette Culpepper, who organizes the annual candlelight vigil for homicide victims on New Year’s Eve.
“We’ve been out here on the battlefield for 28 years and haven’t got a dime,” she said. “It’s time to get some antibiotics and chemo, and stop dealing with Advil.”
Several others who spoke during the public comment period reflected this sentiment as well. Cheeraz Gormon started a support group for siblings of gun violence victims after losing her two brothers. She said she didn’t feel the funding amount for Cure Violence was enough.
“We have to wait for people to die in order for us to act,” Gormon said. “I don’t care how well you dress up a city to attract corporations, if the heart is not well the body is not well. Look at the cost and the impact of families.”
McAllister heard in the news that some believe that $8 million is too much to spend on “a gamble.” To this, he said that they have evidence from multiple cities proving that the program works and saves lives.
“And this will pay for 50 employees over a three-year span that come from these neighborhoods,” McAllister said. “I don’t understand how that is not a worthy investment.”
The Cure Violence contract has been a source of tension between the comptroller and mayor for the past month. On August 20, Mayor Lyda Krewson sent a letter urging St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green to support an emergency contract for Cure Violence. On Sept. 12, Green said she finally received a contract for $125,000, and she signed it. Green criticized Krewson for the delay in getting a contract to her, saying she was “buying time.”
“The people of St. Louis deserve an administration that is proactive and engaged. Now is the time for solutions—no excuses, and no delays,” said Green.
“Supporting a supplemental appropriation is the least that the mayor can do after raising people’s hopes that a contract was ready, and the program could start imminently.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Green’s representative attended the Sept. 12 community meeting at the Deaconess Foundation and stayed until near the end. Mayor Lyda Krewson’s representative, Steve Conway, stayed for only 10 minutes. Three of the Circuit Attorney’s diversion team members were also present and stayed until well after the meeting was over.
“The people who are doing Cure Violence are the same people who perpetrated violence on the community,” said Jamala Rogers, a leader of CAPCR and OBS at the Sept. 12 meeting. “This is restorative justice and they go hard. This about redemption for them.”