“Our presence shows our love”: on the streets of Minneapolis with violence switches – WCCO
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – As Minneapolis grapples with its most violent year in decades, city leaders are hopeful that a special partnership can break the cycle of crime. Seven violence interruption teams cover the city’s most criminal areas. They are paid by the Violence Prevention Bureau.
WCCO wanted to see the work they are doing. So journalist Jennifer Mayerle and photographer Grant Verdon handed over a GoPro camera, three times over the summer, to capture the TOUCH Outreach team in action.
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Members of the TOUCH Outreach team hit the sidewalk six evenings a week. They may look like a community patrol in their matching orange shirts, but say their role goes much deeper.
âOur presence shows our love for the community, and it also deters crime from happening,â said Yulonda Royster.
This team is made up of around 30 men and women, many of whom come from the neighborhoods they serve.
âMost of the time it’s just to be there,â said Muhammad Abdul-Ahad.
Abdul-Ahad has long been a constant in southern Minneapolis, along the Lake Street corridor.
âWe got involved in some pretty difficult situations: guns, knives, different types of assaults. It’s emotional work, especially when you’re faced with things like that, âAbdul-Ahad said.
The teams are trained in de-escalation. They intervene when they sense that something is brewing.
âIt takes a special type of someone to jump in there and get in the middle,â Abdul-Ahad said.
They also believe that their presence deters crime from happening. And a big part of their job is to check in with people. Find out what they may need and provide resources.
âSome of them want to work, some want better, some are looking for housing,â said Tim Chandler.
They say connecting people with these basic needs, like access to jobs and to education and healthcare opportunities, can change their path. But it’s those who raise awareness and stop the violence that can make the difference.
âI was a big problem in these neighborhoods. I was involved in everything: drugs, gang banging, all of the above. I was a really tough guy until I had a revelation, âsaid Sanundre Burns.
READ MORE: ‘Violence switches’ hit streets of Minneapolis to keep the peace
Some time in prison helped Burns realize he wanted to be part of the solution.
âI think it brings confidence. To the people we meet there. Once they find out where we’re from and connect on a whole new level, âBurns said.
Royster grew up around crime. She hopes she can teach young people that there is another option.
âIf you just sit down and talk to them, their stories would break your heart, and some of them felt like they had no choice. They didn’t grow up in loving homes, âRoyster said.
The Violence Interruption Program is part of reimagining public safety by taking a public health approach following the police murder of George Floyd, said Sasha Cotton, director of the Office of Violence Prevention .
âI think we would be absolutely remiss if we didn’t consider new strategies, ways to innovate in the midst of a public safety crisis,â Cotton said. âPart of the strategy is to look at the big picture, macro, to reducing violent crime in the areas in which they work and its impact at the community level. “
The team feels they continue to strengthen their impact every day.
âBy seeing each other six days a week, we build those relationships,â 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 a space to get to know their neighbors and the agents who work in the area.
âWe are spreading love and hope, and hope for change,â Abdul-Ahad said.
And say they will keep pushing for a safer tomorrow.
âI’m not saying it’s going to repel all the violence, but our presence is something really positive,â Chandler said.
Shifts are hired to work five-hour shifts, six days a week. Outreach workers are paid $ 30 an hour. The contract started in May and runs until the end of the year.