Marcus McAllister

Marcus McAllister, an international trainer with Cure Violence, met with community members and public officials in St. Louis last week. This is the second time he has visited St. Louis to talk about bringing the group’s violence prevention model to the city.

Photo by Rebecca Rivas

Mayor Lyda Krewson wants to push through an emergency contract with Cure Violence, a violence de-escalation organization favored by local activists, according to a letter she sent to Comptroller Darlene Green on August 20.

According to the comptroller, the mayor had plenty of time to act on this matter without it coming to an emergency – and the mayor still had not sent the comptroller a contract when the mayor asked her to rush a contract.

The Cure Violence model — which treats violence as an epidemic outbreak and therefore a public health issue — is active in more than 25 cities throughout the world. The idea is to employ local residents who have respect, often ex-convicts, on the streets to prevent gun violence by de-escalating potentially violent situations before they happen.

As part of the contract, Cure Violence leaders will guide the implementation of their de-escalation model in St. Louis and train staff. All staff will come from the specific neighborhoods where they will be working, said Marcus McAllister, an international trainer with Cure Violence.

“I travel all over the world doing trainings, but St. Louis is home,” said McAllister, who is based out of Chicago. “I have family down there. I used to live in St. Louis myself. For me, I’m excited because I’ve been saying, ‘Man, they need Cure Violence in St. Louis’ for the last 16 years.”

In June, two community organizations — Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) and the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR) — paid thousands of dollars for McAllister to come to St. Louis and complete an assessment. They organized a week-long agenda of meetings with community members, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, leaders of the city Department of Health and other city officials.

John Chasnoff, one of the founders of CAPCR, said they learned about the mayor’s letter to the comptroller a day before President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed announced it on Twitter on August 21.

McAllister said Cure Violence lawyers have been talking with the city counselor’s office this week and hope to have something finalized as soon as Friday.

After that step is taken, then begins the implementation phase — which means picking an entity to run the program, choosing a site and setting up the hiring panel. This is where Chasnoff believes community input will be crucial.

“It needs community trust in order to function,” Chasnoff said, “and we need to make sure community voices are at the table as we move forward through the implementation phase.”

Chasnoff and McAllister both said they favored the Department of Health — whose director, Dr. Fredrick Echols, is extremely supportive of the program — being the implementing agency, as it’s done in Kansas City. However, they are open to other options.

On Saturday, McAllister’s uncle, who lives in Alton, called him very upset. He had just heard that eight-year-old Jurnee Thompson was shot and killed after a football game on Friday night.

“There are a lot of situations that happen spur of the moment, but there is always something that led up to it beforehand,” McAllister said. “If you have the right team in place, they will know about the potential of a shooting.”

The Cure Violence team will engage the two parties and do their best to talk them down, he said.

“It’s a matter of who is doing the talking,” McAllister said. “If you get the right people talking to them, they can slow it down.”

The city budget allocated $500,000 for the Cure Violence program, which is a start but will probably only be enough for one site, McAllister said.

The site will only be able to interrupt violence in its assigned area, which will most likely be in an area in North City with the city’s highest crime. The interrupters will not be able to respond to incidents throughout the entire city, which is why multiple sites are necessary.

New York City has 22 Cure Violence sites and spends $30 million a year, McAllister said. Sites in Queens have gone 400 days without a homicide and Brooklyn went 1,000 days.

“They are not playing,” McAllister said. “New York took it to another level.”

Baltimore now has 10 sites.

On Twitter, Reed said that he is going to introduce legislation into the Board of Aldermen to increase the budget for Cure Violence. However, Reed’s chief of staff would not return The American’s repeated requests for comment.

Krewson’s August 20 letter to Green requested that the comptroller use her “emergency powers” to execute the Cure Violence contract, instead of going through the “lengthy” Request for Proposals (RFP) process. However, Green said she has yet to receive a contract. Green has been critical of the mayor’s response to the 16 children who were murdered in the St. Louis region since May, the majority within city limits.

“It is not acceptable that this administration waits for a crisis before acting,” Green said in a statement to the American.

“The mayor’s office had sufficient time to issue an RFP and hold bids for a violence reduction program. Only after a public outcry did the mayor’s office feel compelled to address the people’s concerns. And now another week has passed, and the Comptroller’s Office has still not received a contract for Cure Violence. It is going to take a sustained focus and commitment, working together and partnering with the community to make meaningful change.”

Green is not alone in her critique. Last week, Kelvin Adams, superintendent of Saint Louis Public Schools, reacted to the growing list of SLPS studentswho have been killed through gun violence, along with the other children in the region. While Adams did not call out Krewson by name, he said there is a “void of leadership” in the city to call people together and work on solutions to the growing violence.

“We don’t have anybody, a go-to leader, that is calling people together and saying, ‘Okay, superintendent, police chief, recreation department, what can we collectively do to try and solve this problem?’” Adams said. “That’s the real challenge here.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to The St. Louis American’s repeated requests for comment on her August 20 letter.

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