The Dallas Violence Interrupter Partnership hits the street Saturday in an effort to prevent disruption of neighborhoods.
An event is planned at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Auto Zone store 2849 East Ledbetter Dr.
The program was a recommendation of Mayor Eric Johnson’s Safer Communities Task Force in January as one of four approaches the city could take to reduce the high rate of violent crime in the city aside from the work of police.
Violence Interrupters will be unarmed paid counselors, expected to build relationships and mentor youth and residents on alternatives to gangs and crime.
Bishop Omar Jahwar, founder and CEO of the group Urban Specialists, is involved in the partnership.
“We believe that those who are closest to the problem are most prepared to handle it. We have individuals who have graduated - what we call the OGU Movement -- those who have graduated from the process and those who have an innate knowledge of the issues,” Jahwar said.
OGU stands for Original Gangsters United.
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One of those former gang members is Antong Lucky, who will be one of the Urban Specialists violence interrupters.
Lucky said dense apartment neighborhoods where young people may have a hard time steering away from violence will be a target of their work.
“We are connecting with people in those communities really that want the help, and we're allowing them to lead the way. We’ve found really there is a lot of excitement about wanting to do something that has this type of help coming to their community,” Lucky said.
It is similar to efforts used in other cities, tailored to the people in Dallas neighborhoods. The civilian interrupters may have advantages over police in connecting with residents.
“They know who is committing crimes, who is not committing crimes. They know we are trying to help them,” Lucky said
Even as COVID-19 keeps people apart and makes new relationship-building more challenging, the organizers of this effort claim this year of demonstrations shows that people are ready for a new approach to old problems. It could signal support for their effort.
“You've seen. There is a new idea out here that says we must be involved in our own salvation,” Jahwar said.
He said Saturday’s event at the Auto Zone will turn the neighborhood into a peace zone.
“We're turning the light on to let everyone know, that there is an initiative to stop violence from being cancerous,” Jahwar said.
Neighborhood walks, community clean-ups, communication with neighborhood businesses and city service providers will also be part of the effort.
The Violence Interrupters Partnership is non-profit, but violence Interrupters will be paid for their work.
Shawn Williams with partnership member Allyn Media said donations have been received from AT&T and the Mark Cuban Foundation. Williams said money raised so far should support the program for a year and more donations are being sought.
The non-profit Child Poverty Action Lab is also a partner in the project.