Community members walk the streets of Minneapolis to stop violence

Mayor Jacob Frey speaks about violence in Minneapolis, October 13 at the Oak Park Neighborhood Center.

This article was written by Connor Cummiskey

City officials gathered on October 13 outside the Oak Park Neighborhood Center to present a new piece of the city’s plan to reduce violence.

“MinneapolUS” violence interrupters now walk the streets of the city clad in bright orange shirts, looking to stop violent confrontations before they start.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey spoke first. He described the causes of the uptick in violence as multifaceted, saying the city needed to acknowledge all of them.

“It’s the impacts of the global pandemic, it’s the fact that people no longer have a job, income is diminished, it’s the fact that many of our children have to undergo distance learning right now,” Frey said. “It’s some of the mental and cognitive and emotional issues that people face when they don’t have that normal social and physical contact.”

The violence interrupters are modeled off of a program developed at John J. College, said Director of the Office of Violence Prevention Sasha Cotton. Teams made of 15-20 people began rolling out at the start of September. The most recent team roll-out was a week and a half before the event, Cotton said.

Typical nights involve walking the streets of Minneapolis and talking with people they run into at a gas station or on the street.

Kani Jackson, who works in demolition, says he offers kids jobs helping him to get them off the street immediately. Jackson was born and raised in North Minneapolis; he has several felony arrests for marijuana-related crime. He says the work he’s doing now is about changing the narrative, helping kids find a way to be successful in a way that they want.“I actually make more money painting than I did selling weed,” Jackson said.

Sasha Cotton listed off some of the other current programs working in Minneapolis to reduce violent crime. She started with the Benches of Honor that decorated the garden in which the press event was held. “They are all made from decommissioned gun parts, which is really important because from the ashes can rise greatness,” Cotton said. “That’s really the symbolic value of these benches.”

Another program is the bedside intervention program based in hospitals to help prevent retaliatory violence. “Retaliatory violence is responsible for a large swath of what we’re seeing in our city right now, and what we’ve seen historically,” Cotton said. “What we mean by retaliation and retaliatory violence is that violence is circular and it really does ultimately lead to hurt people, hurt people. When you yourself, you have been hurt, you’re much more likely to want to hurt other people and to retaliate for that harm that has happened to you.”

The Office of Violence Prevention was created in 2019. As chair of the public safety commission, Fourth Ward Council Member Philippe Cunningham touted his work to bring about the Office of Violence Prevention, stating that it takes a public health approach to public safety.

“The violence interrupters are an important piece of the larger puzzle we have to put together as a city that will add up to safety in our city,” Cunningham said.

The Office of Violence Prevention takes a three-pronged approach to preventing violence. The first, or “up front,” is addressing the roots of violence to prevent it. At this level the office uses a community-based approach directed toward all residents, according to the city.

The second prong, “in the thick” is early intervention. Here the city focuses on people with higher risks of being involved in violence, either at the first signs of risk or in response to an immediate threat. The third prong is “aftermath” which is directed toward residents who have already been harmed to prevent that harm from happening again.