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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

“Violence Interrupters” Enforce Social Distancing As NYPD Faces Backlash Over COVID-19 Rules

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By: Robert Kotkin

City Hall is using civilians in an effort to calm down the public, especially in minority areas, who are resisting NYPD attempts to enforce social distancing.

The civilians are used to encourage people to follow social-distancing rules rather than relying solely on police officers.

The NY Times reported: Mayor Bill de Blasio made that effort a priority after viral videos of heavy-handed arrests in black and Hispanic neighborhoods prompted public outrage and enforcement data showed stark racial disparities in arrests, leading to calls for change from elected leaders.

The messengers are mostly young, black and Hispanic men, from the same demographic groups that have been given summonses and arrested the most for offenses related to the pandemic, the Times reported.

Many of them have past involvement in gangs or crime, experiences they use to defuse street conflicts before they escalate to violence and to steer peers toward services like job training.

“They’re looked at as leaders,” he said. “And they have inroads and touch with a very vulnerable population, which are usually young people that government and city agencies struggle to have contact with in a productive fashion”, Eric Cumberbatch, the deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, told the Times

The City also plans on the city plans to appoint 2,300 clergy and city workers, and others as “social-distancing ambassadors.” The Police Department also plans to deploy auxiliary officers to parks.

The NY Times reports: Dr. Gary Slutkin, an infectious disease specialist who created Cure Violence Global, an organization whose prevention model is used in cities like Chicago and New York, said that unlike officers, who rely on their authority to gain compliance, the messengers are trained to persuade people to change behaviors willingly. “Behaviors aren’t really effectively changed by force,” he said.

Recently a situation almost escalated when Harlem resident Giovanni Otho was killed in a dispute over a dice game.

Investigators are still searching for the gunman, who wore a surgical mask and fled on foot after fatally shooting Mr. Otho and a 26-year-old man who survived, the police said.

When the locals, decided to have a tribute to the young janitor, by having a horse-drawn hearse to carry Mr. Otho’s body through the streets of Harlem, they had to change plans due to corona rules. Instead the family planned a small tribute on the block of West 143d Street where Mr. Otho had grown up. But hundreds of people showed up, apparently unaware the procession had been canceled. The police had to break up the event.

The nonprofit “violence interrupters” group Street Corner Resources, headed by Iesha Sekou stepped in to keep the peace. The event was peacefully broken up, thanks to the gang prevention group, which the community trusted more so than the police.

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