Despite desperate conditions, Cherry Hill teamed up with Safe Streets to stop murders for over 400 days
NEWSCASTERS: The deadly shooting of a one-year-old boy over the weekend. It happened Friday night in Cherry Hill. He was shot along Cherry Hill Road. Last week’s deadly shooting of a one-year-old boy in this Cherry Hill neighborhood. JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: A neighborhood once synonymous with crime, violence and murder in Baltimore. MAYOR: I grew up knowing that Cherry Hill was, you know, notorious for the amount of violence. NOOR: Is now being lauded for going over 400 days without a homicide at a time of record number of killings around the city. How did Cherry Hill residents overcome chronic poverty, unemployment, and crime to stop the killings? SPEAKER: The police don’t do nothing out here. They never did and never will. You know what I mean, we police ourself. SPEAKER: Myself along with Safe Streets and other leaders of the community, we just stay hands-on. We just stay engaged with the community, with the young people, we’re always out here. Constantly giving that message of no violence. NOOR: How did Cherry Hill residents overcome chronic poverty, unemployment and crime to stop the killings? And how did things get so bad in Cherry Hill in the first place? RESIDENT: We don’t got no jobs, we don’t got nothing. We need recs to be opened back up. We need, we need something. What is there for us to do? WINBUSH: It’s kind of a study in neglect by Baltimore City, to–what at one time was one of the best places in this country for black people to live. NOOR: Cherry Hill recently celebrated 400 days without a murder as the debate over policing in Baltimore and beyond continues. Just last week two officers appeared on CNN blaming the murder spike on a police slowdown. COP: It’s the proactive, self-initiated policing [has stopped]. NOOR: But Cherry Hill paints a different picture. It has many of the issues shared by neighborhoods plagued by violence, but the community has succeeded in ending murders without the police. Part of the neighborhood’s success is due to an innovative crime-fighting program called Safe Streets, which takes ex-offenders and puts them into the community, where they stop beefs before they turn deadly. Over the first three years of the program, Cherry Hill witnessed over a 50 percent drop in homicides. The program is run by the City Health Department. Director Leana Wen says the idea is to view murder as a public health crisis. WEN: And just like infectious diseases, it’s something that can be prevented. It’s something that can be treated. But it’s something that requires a systemic approach. NOOR: But Safe Streets’ staff of five can’t do it alone. SPEAKER: Safe Streets has four outreach workers and a supervisor. There’s no way they could have the impact they have unless they had community support. NOOR: [Cathy] Mclain’s father was one of the first black World War II veterans who settled Cherry Hill in 1948. For the past two decades she’s worked to improve public safety here, including writing the grant that brought Safe Streets to the neighborhood. She says many groups, like the Disciple Street Team, have joined the fight. MCLAIN: Disciple Street Team is one of those things that’s community-based, it’s at the heart of it, but it provides the services that Safe Streets can’t. BATTLE: We, we just spread love in the community. NOOR: The Disciple Street Team was founded by Michael Battle. They hold events like the annual prayer walk to help heal the community. BATTLE: The time that we’re living in now is so dangerous, it’s so, it’s so intense. You know, you wonder about just letting your kids outside to play. NOOR: Battle talks about the challenges he faced growing up. BATTLE: My mother, she was addicted to heroin. I was a crack baby, born. When you’re raised in such harsh environments, lack of education and no job, you tend to get a sense of hopelessness. So I try to provide hope for people and let them know there is a better way. NOOR: While the community’s efforts are focused on reducing violence, the lack of jobs and opportunities leaves residents with few options. MCLAIN: Because I understand that most people in this neighborhood get involved in drugs because of economic issues. Not because they want to do things that are illegal. They have to feed their families. They’re lots of times undereducated or underemployed, so they’re looking for a way just to get by. NOOR: Residents still expect the police to go after violent criminals. MCLAIN: Safe Streets gets to them before they cross the line and do something illegal. After they do something illegal it’s the police’s, it’s the responsibility of the police department to take action. NOOR: Some attribute Cherry Hill’s decline in homicides to 26 federal indictments against three Cherry Hill area gangs. But locking people up won’t stop crime if people don’t have jobs. MCLAIN: You could take gang members off the street every day and there would always be somebody to step up and take their place. NOOR: And Mclain says these problems are systemic. MCLAIN: The vast majority of the people in Cherry Hill who are at risk are living in conditions that the average person couldn’t manage. You couldn’t manage to feed your children, to pay the rent, to pay the utilities. None of them have transportation because they can’t afford it. NOOR: Dr. Ray Winbush, who has been studying Cherry Hill for the past seven months, says the community’s decline after its establishment to house black World War II veterans was no mistake. WINBUSH: Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about that. The redlining was actually deliberate. Homes that were built in Cherry Hill, many of them had, African-Americans had to get their own money together to buy a house. Banks wouldn’t loan to them. So it was very deliberate, not only in the public sector, but the private sector, as well. NOOR: Just as policies deliberately created the desperate conditions Cherry Hill faces today, can new policies address them? BALL: It’s not rocket science. These problems can be easily fixed. NOOR: Some, like Dr. Jared Ball, propose a radical yet simple solution: increase investment in education. BALL: So if it’s an issue of schools, it’s well-studied that you need to have classroom sizes that are a lot smaller. You need to pay teachers better. Prepare them better. NOOR: And end the so-called war on drugs and invest in social services. BALL: The drug war that is–as it’s called–is often used as a pretense to harass and be violent with many that’s, the local residents. It also encourages their participation in it. So the drug war, as it’s called, again, needs to be rethought if if not entirely abandoned. Open up treatment clinics, and make most drugs legal and available to those of 21, and you would wipe out almost all of the problems associated with the drug war overnight. NOOR: The end of the drug war would allow for the repurposing of some of the $480 million in tax dollars spent by the city on policing, and $1 billion spent on prisons statewide, to put people to work. BALL: If you took the money locally that went to the police here for training and whatever else it’s going, and used it to actually prepare working people or poor people for jobs that were then made available to them and paid appropriately with appropriate benefits. NOOR: Ball notes the idea of a guaranteed national income isn’t new. Prior to his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King embraced it as a way to eradicate crime and poverty for all Americans. King had even envisioned thousands camping out at the Capitol until this and other demands were met. BALL: The basic point was if you just give people at 18 a guaranteed income regardless of their job status it’s going to reduce crime, it’s going to reduce the stress that people have imposed on them that leads them to make the decisions they make that are often criminalized and punished in the ways that they are. NOOR: For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
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