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Milwaukee prevention program aims to reduce gun violence

Chris Conley, 414 Life outreach and resource coordinator at Uniting Garden Homes, stands on April 4 with the "interrupters" team as he speaks to the press at the Froedtert Cancer Center in Milwaukee. City leaders hope the new program can help disrupt retaliatory violence in Milwaukee. (Andrea Waxman/Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service via AP)

Chris Conley, 414 Life outreach and resource coordinator at Uniting Garden Homes, stands on April 4 with the “interrupters” team as he speaks to the press at the Froedtert Cancer Center in Milwaukee. City leaders hope the new program can help disrupt retaliatory violence in Milwaukee. (Andrea Waxman/Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service via AP)

By ANDREA WAXMAN
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Keyon Jackson-Malone got involved in violence when he was a young man even though, earlier, he had helped resolve disputes as a peer mediator at Morse Middle School.

Seven years ago, he “had an epiphany” and resolved to turn his life around. Since then, Jackson-Malone, now in his early 40s, has been working as a “violence interrupter,” first at a grassroots level and now in the Office of Violence Prevention’s 414 Life program. His past is an important part of what makes him effective in that role, he said.

Reggie Moore, Office of Violence Prevention director at the city health department’s, Jeanette Kowalik, Milwaukee health commissioner, and other city and program officials recently announced new partnerships with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and Ascension Wisconsin to combat gun violence. They also introduced the first team of interrupters at a news conference at the Froedtert Cancer Center.

Ten interrupters trained by Cure Violence, a successful violence-prevention campaign that was started in Chicago and has been carried out in cities around the world, began working in the Old North Milwaukee and Garden Homes neighborhoods on the city’s North Side in November. On call 24/7, the 10 have interrupted 26 potentially violent situations, said Derrick Rogers, the site director leading the team.

Cure Violence, founded as “Ceasefire” in 2000, takes a public-health approach to violent behavior. Milwaukee’s Blueprint for Peace, released in November 2017, also is rooted in the proposition that violence is like a contagious disease.

“If people are not safe from physical, psychological and emotional trauma everything else in irrelevant,” Kowalik said.

The Cure Violence model employs residents such as Jackson-Malone, who have relationships with neighborhood residents and can relate to people struggling with violence.

Through the new partnerships, violence interrupters will be trained to provide support to families, friends and survivors of gun violence in hospitals and the surrounding places.

The cost for 414 Life is estimated at $500,000 annually, Moore said. The city has budgeted $280,000 and an additional $200,000 has been raised from foundations this year, he said.

Moore aims to expand the program to the Hampton Heights neighborhood on the North Side and to neighborhoods on the East and Near South Sides by 2021.

This work is about people helping those at the highest risk for violence change their behaviors and local norms, said Jackson-Malone, adding, “I was once a destroyer. Now I’m a rebuilder.”

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