To halt violence among young people in Buffalo, “community peacemakers” will be going into neighborhoods ripe for gang activity and offering meaningful alternatives, city officials and local foundations funding the collaboration announced Wednesday.
The Buffalo Peacemakers Gang Intervention Program will involve dozens of individuals from six community organizations under one umbrella group who will be known as “community peacemakers,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said.
They’ll have an annual budget of about $300,000, he said.
The peacemakers won’t be police officers, Brown said, but they will work closely with police at community events and in going into neighborhoods to defuse grudges among different groups and present positive diversions.
“There will be a seamless level of communication between the police and the peacemakers,” said Brown, adding that some peacemakers will receive stipends for an amount yet to be determined, while others will be volunteers.
The approach is patterned after a nationally recognized gang intervention program that already exists in Boston, Providence, R.I., and Stockton, Calif.
The local groups joining together as peacemakers are all familiar names in the East Side community: Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, Buffalo United Front, F.A.T.H.E.R.S., MAD DADS, No More Tears and the Stop the Violence Coalition.
The John R. Oishei Foundation has committed $200,000; the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, $100,000; and the City of Buffalo, $200,000. The extra money will fund the program in future years. More donations are anticipated.
Other groups providing backup assistance include VOICE Buffalo, the Sister Karen Klimczak Center, PUSH Buffalo, Catholic Charities, WNY Peace Center and Interfaith Network, Local 1199 SEIU representing health care workers, and faith-based groups.
With more than 20 representatives from these organizations and top police officials assembled for a news conference in Brown’s City Hall office Wednesday, he said this latest approach represents a more cohesive way of intervening before violence erupts and additional young people are lost to the streets.
For years, an informal group of peacemakers, organized by the Stop the Violence Coalition, has worked with police at events and proved their worth by spotting trouble before it flared out of control. This produced a high level of trust between the community groups and the Police Department.
“We asked them to assist us six years ago after violent incidents at the Juneteenth Festival, and ever since then we have been told by the festival organizers that it’s the safest year yet,” said Lt. Steve Nichols, who is the police department’s liaison with the newly expanded umbrella group of peacemakers.
Attendance at Juneteenth and other community events, Nichols added, has steadily grown since the partnering began, “and that’s because people feel safe.”
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said he looks forward to increased partnerships with the peacemakers, who will wear distinctive yellow shirts, and expressed gratitude for their efforts in the past.
Supervising peacemaker, the Rev. James E. Giles, pastor of Back to Basics, said the support of the city, foundations and other groups will allow peacemakers to work in a more organized manner.
“We are not law enforcement. We are community agents, and we know clearly what our boundaries are. We leave off where the police begin,” Giles said.
But if the peacemakers succeed, there will not be a need for police.
“We’ll be going to area hot spots where youth are hanging out and engaging them. We’ll redirect them to more constructive, positive pursuits,” Giles said, including trying to get them to resume their education and participate in organized sports and, when possible, job training. “We’ll be speaking to them as fathers and role models.”
Others said investing in the peacemaker effort to prevent violence saves money that would otherwise be spent on criminal-justice costs and the expense of treating victims at Erie County Medical Center’s trauma unit.
“If violence can be avoided, it saves money for the whole community,” said Janet Day, a Wendt Foundation trustee, who added that the strength of the relationship between police and the peacemakers impressed the foundation.
Lawrence H. Cook II, senior program officer with the Oishei Foundation, said what appealed to his foundation was the credibility and high level of trust that members of the peacemaker groups already have in the community.