MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As Minneapolis grapples with its most violent year in decades, city leaders hope a special partnership can break the cycle of crime. Seven teams of violence interrupters cover the city’s most crime-ridden areas. They’re paid by the Office of Violence Prevention.
WCCO wanted to see the work they’re doing. So reporter Jennifer Mayerle, and photographer Grant Verdon, handed over a GoPro camera, three times over the summer, to capture the T.O.U.C.H. Outreach team in action.READ MORE: Minneapolis Violence Interrupters Sidelined, Ask For More Police Presence
Members of the T.O.U.C.H Outreach team hit the pavement six nights a week. They may look like a community patrol in their matching orange shirts, but say their role goes much deeper.
“Our presence is showing our love for the community, and it’s also deterring crime from happening,” Yulonda Royster said.
This team is comprised of about 30 men and women, many from the neighborhoods they serve.
“Most of it is just being there,” Muhammad Abdul-Ahad said.
Abdul-Ahad has long been a constant in south Minneapolis, along the Lake Street corridor.
“We’ve engaged in some pretty tough situations: guns, knives, different types of assaults. This is an emotional job especially when you’re faced with stuff like that,” Abdul-Ahad said.
The teams are trained in deescalation. They intervene when they feel something is brewing.
“It takes a special type of someone to just hop in there and get in the middle,” Abdul-Ahad said.
They also believe their presence deters crime from happening. And much of their work is checking in with people. Finding out what they may need, and providing resources.
“Some of them want to work, some want better, some of them look for housing,” Tim Chandler said.
They say connecting people with those basic needs, like access to employment and educational opportunities and health care can change their path. But it’s those doing the outreach, and interrupting the violence who can make a difference.
“I was a big problem in these neighborhoods. I was involved in everything: drugs, gang banging, all of the above. I was a very harsh guy until I had an epiphany,” Sanundre Burns said.READ MORE: ‘Violence Interrupters’ Hit Minneapolis Streets To Keep The Peace
Some time in prison helped Burns realize he wanted to become part of the solution.
“I think it brings trust. To the people we’re meeting out there. Once they find out where we come from and that we connect on a whole other level,” Burns said.
Royster grew up around crime. She hopes she can teach youth that there is another option.
“If you’d just sit down and talk to them, their stories would just break your heart, and some of them felt like they have no choice. They didn’t grow up in households full of love,” Royster said.
The violence interrupters program is a part of re-imagining public safety by taking a public health approach following the police killing of George Floyd, said Sasha Cotton, director of the Office of Violence Prevention.
“I think we would be absolutely remiss not to look at new strategies, ways to innovate in the midst of a public safety crisis,” Cotton said. “Part of the strategy is looking big picture, macro, at reductions in violent crime in the areas that they’re working in and impact it’s having at a community level.”
The team feels they continue to build their impact each day.
“Seeing us six days a week, we’re building those relationships,” Royster said.
They also organize free community events, to bring people together without barriers, to let the community know who they are, and to give them space to get to know their neighbors, and officers who work the area.
“We’re spreading love and hope, and hope for change,” Abdul-Ahad siad.
And say they’ll keep pushing for a safer tomorrow.
“Not saying it’s going to push all the violence away, but our presence is something real positive,” Chandler said.
Teams are contracted to cover five-hour shifts, six days a week. Outreach workers are paid $30 an hour. The contract began in May and runs through the end of the year.
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