Community Foundation of St. Joseph County

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SBGVI: South Bend Tribune Viewpoint

"City Taking a Different Path to Stop the Violence," Sunday, May 18, 2014, by Rose Meissner, president, Community Foundation of St. Joseph County


The Community Foundation has joined with other funders to retain David Kennedy and the National Network for Safe Communities to assist with implementation of the South Bend Group Violence Intervention.

Last Thursday, our community's efforts to implement the South Bend Group Violence Intervention reached a critical milestone: our first "call-in." Such call-ins, meetings with members of street groups who are on probation or parole, have become routine in cities all over the country for one simple reason: This strategy works.

An unusual combination of people and organizations have been working intensely for nearly a year to get to this moment. This group includes law enforcement professionals from the full gamut of agencies and ranks, African-American leaders who have spent their lives working to strengthen and protect people in their neighborhoods, and social service organizations that are eager to find new ways to help those at greatest risk.

We are united behind a common mission to stop the violence. The members of the South Bend Group Violence Intervention have put great faith in each other and in our community to change South Bend's approach to violence prevention from this day forward. I have never worked with a more committed group of leaders.

Thursday's call-in put us in direct communication with the primary driver of homicides and shootings in our community: street groups.

Nearly 30 street group members heard messages they were asked to bring back to their associates, a ripple effect that should reach many of the people in South Bend most likely to commit violent acts and, not coincidentally, most likely to become victims. I doubt these men ever heard messages like the following:

Chief Ron Teachman: "It is my job to keep this community safe, and that includes you and your associates. I am your chief of police, too. We will help you if you let us. But we will stop you if you make us."

Division Chief Ruszkowski: "I get no joy in throwing another blanket over another dead body, drawing another chalk line around a fallen victim, or knocking on a door and telling yet another mother that her child has been killed over nothing."

Bobbie Woods, founder of Mamas Against Violence, described the pain of losing her only son, Terrill, to gun violence. She acknowledged that the shooter not only brought enormous grief on her and her family, but ruined his own life and his family's lives as well.

Isaac Hunt Jr., with Goodwill Industries, offered to get them whatever services they or their associates need to choose a different path. "You take one step toward me, and I will walk two steps toward you. Here's my number. Call me any time, day or night. Let us help you. But whatever you do, put your guns down."

There is no joy from the gun violence that plagues our city, only pain.

But there is great joy in seeing South Bend come together to implement a proven strategy that will keep more young men from ruining their own lives and those of so many others. We are taking a different path, and we hope they will come with us.