The Bronx seeks new ways to cure violence with the rise of U.S. shelling

A warning came as Julio Ramirez was walking down Creston Avenue on 183rd Street, one of the most violent streets in the Bronx.

“I spent my youth running down this street,” said Ramirez, now 35 and recently released from prison.

He didn’t return this afternoon as a street gang foot soldier, as he once was, but as a member of Bragg or the Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence. The city-funded group deploys men and women like Ramirez who are closely associated with 183rd Street as “violence deterrents.” Their job is to try to persuade young people to push themselves into the neighborhood and to leave the conflict before the consequences of the shooting.

“The bottom line is that if you encounter a young man with a gun at 2 in the morning, it will not be a stranger who will agree to drop their gun,” said David Kaba, BRAG’s senior program director. Director, explain the limits of the police.

BRAG is one of a similar group created by the Chicago Cure Violence Program, which treats shots less as a matter of criminal justice than public health. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.

A group chat at BRAG headquarters © Pascal Perich / FT

As the spiral of violent crime in the United States – with homicides rising nearly 30 percent last year, the biggest one-year increase on record according to the FBI – is preventing violence. President Joe Biden has supported such programs and offered to fund them.

In New York City, the problem is particularly urgent. The murders this week exceeded their total for 2020 – a prosperous year in itself. Eric Adams, a former police captain who could be the next mayor, won the Democratic primary in a pledge to improve public safety, which business leaders have agreed is essential to bringing workers and tourists back to Manhattan.

Bragg would seem to be part of the solution. Two of its territories have now passed more than five years without killings. The appeal of its approach is even more evident at a time when George Floyd’s police killings and other abuses have turned public sentiment against aggressive law enforcement and motivated the search for alternatives.

“In some ways they are facing charges of involving the community in reducing violence,” said Richard Auburn, a lawyer who is president of the New York Civil Crimes Commission. Aborn praised BRAG but also said he would like to see more rigorous research confirming its impact.

BRAG signs urge young people to stay away from gun crime
BRAG signs urge young people to stay away from gun crime © Pascal Perich / FT

Kelly Welch, a criminologist at Villanova University, says programs that treat violence as a public health problem may “potentially” be more effective than conventional law enforcement strategies.

But, Welch added: “The goal of those who prevent violence is to have the trust and confidence of the audience – often gang members, but also the support and trust of the local criminal justice community. It’s not an easy feat and it may not work everywhere. “

Violent intruders live in an uncomfortable niche in public safety, located somewhere between the police and a victimized neighborhood. Although they will sometimes take information from the police, it can never flow the other way if they want to gain the trust of the community where the conventional wisdom is to “get the snatch sewn”.

Even the Kaaba, 58, better known as the “Indio”, admits that its group cannot do the work on its own and that the violence it prevents in one area may re-emerge elsewhere.

“The number one factor is the credibility of the messengers. They have to be people in that neighborhood, ”he explained, sitting in an office“ no shooting day! ”Scrawled across the white board.

The son of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants, Kabar has plenty of credibility. He grew up in the South Bronx in an era when abandoned buildings were burned or occupied by drug addicts for insurance money. He described his younger self as “extremely violent”.

“Growing up, I had to either join a gang or fight a gang member. Every day, ”he recalls.

Caba lost his older brother and niece to gang shootings and was imprisoned at the age of 31. He had a son and then had an account. Eventually, he returns to school and studies addiction and understands how violence gives rise to emotional trauma, which can encourage substance abuse.

Fernando Cabrera, a local council member, found funding for the city for a healing violence program, and was hired to launch Bragg in 2014 at the Kaaba and the nonprofit organization of nonprofit services where he was then working. They were trying to determine where Bragg would be the first outpost. “I said,‘ It’s easy: the third, ’” Kaaba recalls using local semantics for 183rd Street. Certainly, the data crunched by the experts confirmed his idea.

Julio Ramirez is the 'Violence Preventer'
Try to persuade young people to abandon the conflict before they turn into gunfire, as portrayed by Julio Ramirez © Pascal Perich / FT

Bragg now has three “hot” zones in the Bronx, each with a separate police presence. On a map, they look small – about 12 square blocks. Yet the complexity between those narrow spaces is immense, as evidenced by a recent visit to 183rd Street where young people resting in bodegas, panshops and liquor stores and on motorcycles, listening to music and smoking. One corner of a crossroads was operated by Puerto Rican and Dominican dealers. The opposite was the turf of the Jamaicans. The two rival gang factions were about a block away on either side.

“Each of the two blocks is like a different world,” Ramirez explained, standing next to an apartment building where a man had been shot dead a few weeks earlier. He and his crew set up a folding table and handed out free school backpacks to pedestrians.

Seven staff – including Violence Prevention, Outreach and others – have been deployed in each zone. Obstacles are the boot of the operation trying to enter a suspicious community through the ground, perseverance and small gestures.

A good intruder should know, for example, when someone is returning from prison and may be interested in recovering from a drug dealer. They rushed to the hospital after the shooting because friends and family gathered there and the talk of revenge was swift.

Getting hired like Ramirez is not easy. They still have to order respect around – but it also proves that they have left “life” behind. “We do our best,” Kaaba said.

Members of the Bragg program at their headquarters in the Bronx, Pascal Perich / FT

A little deception can be useful. Jeremy Molina, 31, BRAG’s program manager, once recalled bending over to a young man at gunpoint for revenge that he should be detained because police were nearby. “He’s hot, he’s ready to put a heat in this friend,” Molina said. “I bought him some time.”

Molina is a diplomat through training. She grew up with nine foster children in a three-bedroom apartment in the area. Some join rival gangs. After starting out as a constraint at BRAG, Molina now helps arrange its program managers, trainees, job training and other services. Bragg has a music recording studio, which is both a lure for kids and an outlet. Its goal is not only to prevent violence but also to ultimately lead its participants to a more productive life.

Nowadays, people in the neighborhood felt more annoyed than when she was growing up, Molina said. Social media irritates material desire. “They can see everything on Instagram and they want things too,” he said of the kids in the neighborhood. It has also enabled young people who have never faced each other before to start online conflicts that sometimes turn into real life conflicts.

Meanwhile, the police have retreated due to the “movement” movement, many believe. Then there is the epidemic, which is widely blamed for the increase in homicide in U.S. cities – but not always with a clear explanation.

The Kaaba called it a “tsunami.” To Molina, Kovid-19 has taken away some of the balance that was in the vicinity and its illicit trade and has broken it. Even drug dealers, he noted, would prefer stability.

“I think we’re part of the solution,” he said. “But there’s more to it than we have.”

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