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Federal recovery money should fund Safe Streets and other anti-violence programs, advocates say

Safe Streets-Belvedere violence interrupters work July 13, 2021, to curb fatal violence in Baltimore.
Safe Streets-Belvedere violence interrupters work July 13, 2021, to curb fatal violence in Baltimore. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Christina Jones said her husband did the lion’s share of the child care for their four children while also working to prevent violence in Cherry Hill.

“He was like the mom dad,” she said of her husband Kenyell Wilson, a violence interrupter for Baltimore’s anti-violence Safe Streets program. She said he often took calls from home, working to mediate disputes before they erupted into violence.

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Wilson was fatally shot in July in the neighborhood where he grew up, once caused trouble, but then worked hard to heal. Jones said his death has broken the family, leaving her as a single parent and her youngest son, just 18 months, without his father.

“Nobody can fill that void,” she said.

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Still, Jones believes in her late husband’s work of mediating disputes to prevent violence. On Tuesday, she and the children, along with family of Dante Barksdale, another Safe Streets worker who was shot to death in January, attended an event aimed at increasing funding for Safe Streets and other local anti-violence programs.

Dante Barksdale, right, shown here at a ceremony marking the opening of the Safe Streets Brooklyn-Curtis Bay branch two years ago. Barksdale was gunned down earlier this year, and now groups are calling for more funding for Safe Streets and other city anti-violence groups.
Dante Barksdale, right, shown here at a ceremony marking the opening of the Safe Streets Brooklyn-Curtis Bay branch two years ago. Barksdale was gunned down earlier this year, and now groups are calling for more funding for Safe Streets and other city anti-violence groups. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Greg Jackson, an organizer with the national Fund Peace campaign, which is lobbying on behalf of similar anti-violence programs in a dozen other cities, said they want to see Gov. Larry Hogan and local officials use more federal COVID relief dollars to support anti-violence initiatives.

Baltimore was allocated $525 million in American Rescue Plan funds, while the state was allocated $3.7 billion, which Jackson said should support anti-violence programs in Baltimore and other Maryland cities and counties.

“We have buy-in at the federal level and we need to make sure it trickles down,” Jackson said.

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Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan said the administration “reached an agreement with the General Assembly in the spring to allocate American Rescue Plan funding for a number of priorities. The governor’s budget included record funding for crime and violence prevention, as well as analyzing evidence-based strategies to reduce crime.”

Baltimore is also among 14 municipalities selected by President Joe Biden’s administration to participate in community violence intervention programs, where messengers link people to various social services in order to prevent violence.

Chico Tillman the leader of Fund Peach, a national coalition of anti-violence groups spoke at a news conference Tuesday in East Baltimore.
Chico Tillman the leader of Fund Peach, a national coalition of anti-violence groups spoke at a news conference Tuesday in East Baltimore. (Jessica Anderson/Baltimore Sun)

Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said that Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration is also supportive of such programs.

“He’s made a commitment to funding this work,” and will allocate ARP dollars to fund public safety, Jackson said. “We know that partnerships both at a national and local level are essential for us to get this work done. It has to take place in order to restore the community trust that we know will eliminate violent crime in our city.”

Safe Streets outreach workers, as well as employees from Roca, a program that seeks to help young men identified as a high-risk to become involved in violence, and Erricka Bridgeford of Baltimore Ceasefire 365, which organizes nonviolent weekends in the city, also spoke at the event at the UA House at Fayette operated by Living Classrooms Foundation in East Baltimore.

At Tuesday’s event, the Fund Peace campaign also awarded Barksdale and Wilson’s families with $5,000 each to help support their families.

Joan Houston, Barksdale’s mother, said her son loved his work, but it wore on him.

“I’m so tired” she recalled him saying. “He was tired of all the shootings.”

Still, Houston and other family members recalled how Barksdale loved to sing and dance each morning. When neighbors didn’t hear him singing, they would call his mother out of concern.

Barksdale was a natural mediator beginning as a teenager, intervening in disputes among his friends. Even during family quarrels he would intercede, his family said.

Houston said she was always skeptical of the work, worrying about her son’s safety.

“For the last eight years I was afraid I was going to get that call,” she said.

But the family was proud of Barksdale’s work.

“He didn’t want to see people get hurt,” his mother said. He didn’t want other families to suffer like his.

For Jones, who has yet to return to work as she continues to look after her four kids, her family will find their way she said.

“We will pick up the pieces,” said Jones, who wore a pink Safe Streets shirt, as she held her youngest son. He wore a shirt that said “Rad Like Dad.”

Both families have experienced the pain and trauma that Barksdale and Wilson and so many of their colleagues are still working to prevent.

“We had a family. It’s been destroyed,” she said. “It has a domino effect.”

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