The ribbon was cut, the front door was opened, and the promise was kept. Eleven years ago, Leon Faruq, who was one of the first leaders of Safe Streets Baltimore, had one request on his deathbed to his friend and colleague Corey Winfield: “Keep it going.”
Tuesday marked the grand opening of the city’s sixth Safe Streets site, at 423 E. Patapsco St. in the South Baltimore neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“This is going to save lives starting today,” said Meredith Chaiken, executive director of the Greater Baybrook Alliance, at Tuesday’s ceremony. The organization is partnering with Catholic Charities to support the work of the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay location of the city violence prevention and street mediation program.
Once the ribbon was cut, a chant grew from the crowd: “Safe Streets! When do we want it? Now!”
Expanding the program to 10 locations by the end of the year was one of former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s signature efforts to curb violence. The executive summary of the city’s 2020 budget, drafted after she resigned from office in early May, confirms that 10 sites remains the city’s goal.
During celebrations like these, Winfield can’t help but remember his brother, Ju-Juaw, who was murdered in 2007. The site director for Safe Streets for the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay area, Winfield has been part of the program since his brother died as a result of gun violence. He started at the first location in East Baltimore and more recently one in Sandtown-Winchester, where over 500 potentially violent conflicts were reported as mediated from July 2017 to July 2018.
“The violence in this city is perpetual,” Winfield said. “Forgiveness has to start somewhere.”
Safe Streets Baltimore employs ex-offenders who intervene in conflicts between community members before they grow violent and work to reduce shootings and homicides in high-violence areas. The program also connects at-risk teenagers and adults with city resources.
“One time I was part of the destruction,” said Imhotep Faitu, program director of Safe Streets-Brooklyn, at a family gathering before the ceremony, “but there cannot be a community without people and we can’t have people if they’re all dying.”
There have been 58 homicides in the Brooklyn ZIP code in the past five years. The neighborhood also had the second highest number of combined shootings and homicides in the city from 2012 to 2017.
“When you see old people sitting outside and kids playing on the streets,” Winfield said, “that’s success.”
The site, which has been under renovation since March, will start operating Monday. Winfield encouraged community members from the Brooklyn or Curtis Bay area to apply to be violence interrupters.
“Only seven people are working,” Faitu said, “but we need the entire community.”
When it was Winfield’s turn to speak, he recalled one of his final memories with Faruq.
“He said to me, ‘Bigga, you guys are gonna do great things,’ ” to which Winfield scoffed, “ ‘You think you know everything.’ ”