On a recent afternoon in East New York, Terrance Burgess is doing his rounds of the streets.

He spots a young man he knows from childhood on Van Siclen Avenue, and scoops him up into a bear hug, promising to check in on him later. He knows the man is newly back in the community, and may need support. 

Burgess is a violence interrupter for Man Up Inc., a multi-service organization providing job assistance, after-school programs, mediation, outreach, violence prevention and more in East New York and neighboring areas. His job is to know his community like the back of his hand — and to find ways to prevent violence from happening, rather than coming in to arrest and punish when it does.

As calls to defund the police intensify, community organizations like Man Up Inc. are demonstrating alternatives to traditional policing. And for Burgess — who Man Up Inc. helped get back on his feet after he was incarcerated at 17 — it’s personal. “I want to change people the way I changed, in my neighborhood.”

Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Wave of violence amid pandemic

Right now, the city’s leaders are scrambling to find solutions to a spike in gun violence — with shootings up  from 394 to 634 compared to this time last year. The 41 shootings so far in East New York’s 75th precinct are on par with the same period last year, according to NYPD data.

NYPD commissioner Dermot F. Shea points to bail reform, pandemic-required release of inmates and new police regulations as possible causes. But Man Up Inc. founder Andre T. Mitchell blames the loss of jobs and loved ones due to the pandemic, the tension of being cooped up inside — often in NYCHA projects — and seemingly endless episodes of police brutality.

“It becomes a catastrophic state of mind, that when we do go outside, we’re kind of busting out of the seams,” he said.

Plus, organizations have been unable to check in on people as they normally would. Burgess points to one at-risk teen he mentored who was going to school and participating in Man Up Inc. activities, until the pandemic hit. “And when COVID happened, not having personal contact, he slipped out of my hands and wound up getting into a shooting, allegedly, and now he’s arrested.”

Now the city is opening up again, Man Up Inc. can get back to on-the-ground outreach. This means people like Burgess working shifts to monitor their communities for tension, conducting daily on-the-spot mediations, approaching “high-risk” people or those just out of prison to set them on a positive path, and even visiting shooting victims in hospital to try to prevent retaliation.

Andre Mitchell of Man Up! led the crowd on Monday. Photo credit: A. Leonhardt for BK Reader

When cops fall back

Mitchell said he welcomes the opportunity for organizations like his to step up amid the defund the police movement.

East New York is a traditionally overpoliced neighborhood where cops have a history of harassing its predominantly Black residents. “That in itself creates and breeds a certain atmosphere, because it’s almost like an occupied force in your community,” Mitchell said.

East New York was “ground zero” for Stop-and-Frisk and even today is the city’s precinct facing the highest number of federal lawsuits by far

Man Up Inc. violence preventer Terrance “Dae-Dae” Burgess is armed with only a clipboard and a trash bag of free PPE.

While police should still deal with high level offences, a bulk of NYPD funds should be diverted to local organizations, Mitchell said.

After recent pressures on the city, $1 billion was shifted from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget. In 2018, Man Up Inc. ran on a budget of $3.776 million in contributions and grants, according to latest tax filings

These funds might go to people like Man Up Inc. site manager for the 81st precinct Shneaqua “Coco” Purvis, who recently defused a situation where a group of young people were caught on video stealing from a local business. Instead of calling the police, the business called Purvis, who was able to find the kids, tell their parents and return the goods without involving the cops.

“Instead of busting down their doors, raiding the house, taking everybody out on the street, putting them in jail or putting these kids through the system, police should just give us a call and we’ll handle it.” 








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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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2 Comments

  1. That’s a new one…”violence interrupter.” Love these made-up titles. What are his qualms other than he’s big and black and can affront another person with his size?

    1. Here is some info to educate you, Steve S. From Wikipedia
      Violence interruption is a community-based approach to reducing communal and interpersonal violence that treats violence as a public health problem.[1][2] Indivduals providing violence interruption services are known as violence interrupters.[3] Techniques used include mediation and measures to address underlying causes of violence such as poverty.[citation needed] The initiatives use a public health model to prevent violence and crime by treating them as diseases.[2]

      As of 2018 initiatives were in place in Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore and other US cities, as well as in London and Glasgow.[2][3]

      Violence interruption is distinct from law enforcement as an approach to ending violence, although the two approaches can sometimes be regarded as complementary to one another.[2]

      The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention is an organization which links violence interruption projects to medical resources.[citation needed]

      During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, violence interrupters helped encourage social distancing, hand washing, and other measures to limit viral spread and helped distribute food and supplies in the areas they served.[4][5][6]

      History[edit]
      In the 1990s epidemiologist Gary Slutkin noticed similarities between the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the violence occurring in Chicago at the time, noticing that violence was happening in “clusters,” seemed to be “replicating itself”, and was increasing rapidly, just like disease epidemics did.[2] He recognized these as the three classic signs of contagious disease and decided to treat it as that.[2] He applied for funding and started a pilot program which eventually became Cure Violence.[2] Using a sociological technique he and colleagues had developed fighting AIDS in Uganda, he recruited former gang members as “Violence Interrupters” to do outreach.[2] According to the BBC, “The results were instant; crime in its pilot area, West Garfield, dropped significantly. Soon the project was being adopted across other troubled parts of [Chicago].”[2]

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