ATLANTA — When a shooting occurs within a cluster of neighborhoods in south Atlanta, Police officers aren't the only ones responding to the scene. A group of people who live in the area are dispatched too.
The self-proclaimed violence interrupters begin their days around 2 p.m. They then pair off into groups of two, heading out to neighborhoods like Adair Park, Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, Pittsburgh and Summerhill.
While it's not always a safe job given the volatile situations they can encounter, this group is uniquely qualified because of their training and familiarity with the community.
One of the program's directors, Alfred Garner, said often times team members know about a shooting before police.
“Because of the relationships we have in the community. They’re going to call me first before they call law enforcement," Garner said.
Garner, who helped launch the Cure Violence program in 2020, said they work to prevent conflicts from escalating to gun violence through counseling and conflict resolution guidance. They operate under CHRIS 180, a behavioral health organization that equips the team with crisis intervention training and tools to provide trauma services to these communities.
“I think people have always felt like the policing modality of the world is the way to address crime. But everything isn’t a policing issue," Garner added.
The Cure Violence team also works to provide opportunities to residents to prevent them from turning to crime, a mission that hits close to home for the program's supervisor, Tekesia Shields.
"One of my sons is currently incarcerated. I had to go through parenting classes, went through a lot of different court cases. So who else better to provide the truth, then a person who has been through it," Shields explained.
Team members not only work to resolve street-level conflicts, but they also provide support to their communities through food distribution, prayer vigils, and even celebrations.
While the program is still early in it's inception, these community leaders feel they've been able to infiltrate these neighborhoods in a way that neither police, nor city leaders have.
“Because of Cure Violence of it all – we can go where police can’t go. Our job is to mitigate the violence – because once the trigger gets pulled – you lose your sense of freedom," Garner said.
Program leaders said they have been working with the city and mayor's office to expand to neighborhoods on the westside, as well as Oakland City in southwest Atlanta. However, no official plans have been announced just yet.