by Mateja Mihinjac
A few months ago I visited Syracuse, New York during a workshop organized by SUNY’s Center for Community Design Research. The workshop was part of the Center’s Visioning Voices Speaker Series, an outreach program aimed at finding collaborative solutions for safer and healthier neighborhoods.
During a safety audit with residents, police, and others – and despite hearing about high levels of violence in Near Westside neighborhood – the neighborhood was quiet with few people occupying the streets. In some parts, we observed gang members controlling their territory, but the most obvious clue to violence were signs calling to end violence.
SIGNS AGAINST VIOLENCE
The first sign was positioned in a community garden: “OG's Against Violence” (O.G. = Original Gangsters). Clifford Ryans established this NGO 15 years after his son, then aged 17, was killed in a shooting. He now advocates against violence and walks the streets of Syracuse to interrupt potential violent altercations across the city. He is on a life mission to prevent fatal shootings in his city.
The second sign was on the windows of a now-closed Inn with large posters saying “stop the killing” and “cure violence”. These posters were in response to the death of a 21-old man who was shot on the adjacent street on an evening in April 2017. This event had shaken neighborhood residents. The city of Syracuse had celebrated 83 days without a homicide in a city where homicide from shooting is rampant, and this shooting broke that record.
The Near Westside neighborhood is known for high levels of gang-related violence and deadly shootings. Estimates show that the neighborhood has been experiencing levels of crime above national, state and city average.
With 72 deaths and additional 453 injuries resulting from gunshots in Syracuse between 2009 and mid-2015, gunshots clustered in Near Westside. In response to that gun violence, Syracuse implemented an anti-violence program called “Operation SNUG” (SNUG = "guns" backwards) in 2010, which operated for over a year until its money ran out in 2011.
The program showed great promise although there were suggestions for modifications for a program to better suit the needs of Syracuse community.
In 2014 operation SNUG was reintroduced in Syracuse, which became one of the 7 sites across New York State that received a grant to implement a coordinated, community-based strategy modeled on the well regarded Cure Violence program.
Next blog: The Cure Violence solution to gang shootings.