On Saturday, September 17, 2011, the administration of Mayor Mitch Landrieu made a commitment to pursue “CeaseFire New Orleans” at the Saving Our Sons crime summit. On Saturday, December 14, 2013 members of the New Orleans Program made a commitment to pursue the establishment of CeaseFire Pensacola at the Save Our City Pensacola (SOCP) county-wide community organizing meeting. The meeting was held at Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church where Rev. Willie Demps serves as Pastor. SOCP is an emerging organization led by twenty-something year old leaders, some out of Mt. Pilgrim, frustrated with the continued violence and murders of young people of all ages. Demetrius Davis, Denita Long, Quadarius Allen, Lakesha Williams, and Arielle Rice, the founding members of SOCP, invited interested community groups and residents concerned about the local epidemic of violence to share their ideas on actions they could all work together on to make a difference.
So how did members of the CeaseFire New Orleans staff make it to Pensacola? Arielle Rice, a friend of Demetrius Davis was recruited to join the organization. Arielle convinced her mother, Rita Rice, a former Department of Juvenile Justice official, to advise her on ideas for the youth that were organizing the effort. Rice had become so concerned about her daughter’s friends being caught up in the violence that she approached a lifelong friend Tony McCray, President of McCray & Associates, for strategies to “do something to save our youth in Escambia County and give back to the community.” McCray then turned to his new business associate, Joe Gildersleeve from New Orleans to approach some of his friends in CeaseFire New Orleans to assist the Pensacola youth coalition.
Danny Allen, a CeaseFire Violence Interrupter, offered to accompany Joe Gildersleeve from New Orleans to attend the SOCP meeting and share first-hand information on the details of how the organization works and how his job is to intervene quickly with individuals violently injured and with their loved ones, emphasizing the CeaseFire message during a time of crisis. Allen’s interest spread to two other members of the staff, Steve Yost with their Hospital Response Initiative and Jarmal Coates, a program participant that has grown tremendously after leaving the streets of New Orleans and serving as an intern in city government. When Jarmal’s progress was shared with the groups at the meeting applause broke out commending him on his accomplishments.
The groups in attendance included: Parents Against Injustice & Negligence (PAIN), a local parent organization of mothers who have lost their children to violent deaths. They have been involved in assisting SOCP in developing ideas geared toward mutual support for an anti-violence initiative. Lavon Brown and Lisa Wiggins, PAIN members were attending their second meeting of the youth group. Wiggins, a Director of PAIN, said that, “We are excited to reach out to support our young people who are organizing to attract other youth to help themselves. Demetrius and his members have the passion for helping others and as long as he has the passion he will be successful.”
Leroy Williams, President of Pensacola Community Arts and Recreation Association or PCARA and an account executive with the Blue Wahoos commented that, “The CeaseFire Program gives us a great opportunity to empower our community to stop the violence that is killing our youth and hurting our families. From what I have heard during the presentation this is just what we need. This will enable us to use the CeaseFire concept to actually go out in the hot spots and build relationships for change. They have got just what we need to train local Violence Interrupters using their New Orleans experience.”
Other adults in attendance included Minister Michael Williams of Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, and Tony Edmond, a marketing entrepreneur who has developed a Stop The Violence Code and Rules of Engagement to Stop the Violence.
The CURE Violence model (formerly Chicago CeaseFire), is a public health approach to violence prevention, using street level outreach and conflict mediation to drastically reduce incidences of homicide and gun violence in a strategically chosen target area. The City of New Orleans funded pre-implementation activities for CeaseFire New Orleans through a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with Baptist Community Ministries (BCM) in February of 2010. The model relies on a credible community mobilization component with messengers to deliver strong communication about conflict resolution, redirection, risk reduction and community responsibility using cognitive behavioral techniques.
In addition to Outreach Workers and Violence Interrupters, the program uses community mobilization and public education strategies to engage whole communities in the effort to reduce shootings and killings. The Violence Interrupters are responsible for developing intelligence regarding potential conflicts and possible violence or retaliatory incidents and intervene in situations of potential violence to interrupt the decision-making pathway that leads to violence.
In order to build a strong coalition of community leaders and program supporters, CeaseFire engages in strategic planning that focuses on issues of violence prevention in terms of policy and community organizing. This planning may also include trainings in responses to shootings that increase the community’s capacity to organize around real one-on-one violence prevention techniques. Shooting Responses are a community response to all shootings and killings in the target area. Typical response methods include marches, vigils, and artistic expressions. Typical events include outdoor movie nights, midnight basketball, and midnight barbeques.
Arielle Rice stated, “My involvement with SOCP is working towards keeping guns and our young people off of the streets. Through the years I have lost friends, watched families mourn, and have not seen enough of our community that is tired of watching our people die and wanting to put a stop to the violence. I feel it’s vital that we save our generation for the sake of our future and our integrity. Demetrius Davis, the group’s founder told the Pensacola Voice that he has been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. He commented that, “I can envision the struggle in my mind and I can understand how those leaders were really concerned about the people. SOCP is really concerned about our community.” He went on to say, “Dr. King once said that: Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars! I think that today, Pensacola’s neighborhoods are dark with violence to the extent that it is time for the stars to come out and shine bright, and that is what SOCP is all about!”