A highly touted initiative to address violent crime was just renewed for funding by the Greensboro City Council. Cure Violence completed its second year in Greensboro and is already in other North Carolina communities. Places like Forsyth County may bring it in soon. The program sends trained mediators to targeted high crime areas in a city that's been grappling with a record-breaking number of fatal shootings. Early signs show some progress, but organizers say they need more money to be effective and there are questions as to whether it's worth the investment.
On a sunny day in December of last year, Ingram Bell leads a small group of people known as violence interrupters, as well as volunteers along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive following a deadly shooting.
She's with Gate City Coalition, the Greensboro chapter of Cure Violence. With fliers in hand, they pass a Church's Chicken and pause to read a sign posted on the door offering a reward for information.
“So, we're outside canvassing, talking to our community members,” says Bell. “You've got to stay relatable doing this work or you lose the effectiveness.”
They treat gun violence as a public health issue: find the unrest, interrupt it, and identify the high-risk individuals involved. Trained outreach coordinators attempt to address the root causes. They develop coalitions to support folks with housing, education, and anger management skills.
Bell and her team grew up here, near the Smith Homes Neighborhood. They're what she calls credible messengers, a key component of the Cure Violence program. Bell knows this personally as a survivor of gun violence.
“It affects a lot of people around us,” she says. “And it's hurtful. And those on the outside don't understand that a lot of us inside of our African American communities, we're all family. You know? Greensboro is tiny. And a lot of us are connected in one way or the other. So, it affects us all.”
Bell says the coalition follows up on conflicts for as long as needed to help diffuse them. The job is 24/7 with participants often dropping by her home.
“I'm a cooker,” says Bell. “So, I cook. You know, they might have a glass of wine and we'll sit at the house, and we talk. And we talk about other things and why what was said or what was done has gotten them so rattled that they're willing to throw their life away.”
She says it makes a difference, maybe even stopping the violence in its tracks. Some skeptics question that, as well as the program's hiring practices — Bell's team includes formerly incarcerated people and inactive gang members. A recent rise of homicides in other parts of the city led to more vocal opposition. At a November City Council meeting, Mayor Nancy Vaughan shared her concerns.
“I would like an update on the Cure Violence program,” she said. “We've had it for two years. We've spent over a million dollars on it. If it's working, and I'm hoping that it is, then it should be expanded.”
Following Vaughan Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, a major proponent of the Cure Violence model, spoke. She cited a then forthcoming UNC-Greensboro evaluation of Gate City Coalition's progress which was presented to City Council members two weeks later. The fifty-three-page report showed more than 450 individuals were helped by the program. Most of the high-risk participants found employment, and there was roughly a 50% drop in aggravated assaults in one of the targeted areas — more than 60% in the other. But Johnson says that a comprehensive approach to gun violence requires the City Council to address systemic issues.
“Because poverty and the lack of wealth and the lack of enough for people leads to the frustration and hopelessness that we see and we work to reverse,” says Johnson.
Arthur Durham from Cure Violence agrees. He helped launch the Greensboro program. He told City Councilmembers that Bell and her team are doing incredible mediation work between rival gangs, but they're understaffed, underappreciated, and fighting unrealistic expectations.
“We tell everybody, ‘Chill out, put them guns down,' but after a while the desensitization of trying to talk to these young people, these guns are too readily available,” says Durham. “I mean, I know kids who've got holes in their shoes, but they've got a $600 dollar firearm. Y'all have no idea how prominent that is in this city. And they were actually out there every day fighting this and the only thing they hear every time they tune in is somebody wants to stop the program.” On January 18, 2022, the Council voted unanimously to continue funding the Cure Violence initiative in the amount of $400,000 dollars — less than advocates like Durham had hoped.
Assistant City Manager for Public Safety Trey Davis is a 23-year police force veteran who says community engagement is the key to reducing violent crime, and the Cure Violence model fits that bill. He's the main liaison between the group and the police, providing crime analyst data each week. Davis says that it'll be another two to three years before a definitive assessment of the program's effectiveness can be made, but for now, it's clearly fulfilling its mission.
“It is important to interrupt crime, but I think more so if the facilitators of our Cure Violence program — if Gate City Coalition — can offer folks who are in that culture resources that can change their lives and lead them out of a culture of violence, I think that's when we start to really make a difference,” says Davis.
And if the city of Durham is any indicator, more time could demonstrate the benefit of Cure Violence and the work of groups like Gate City Coalition. Now in its fourth year, the targeted neighborhoods there have seen a roughly 2% drop in gun-related crimes since 2013 while the rest of the city experienced a rise of more than 16%. Those types of successes are prompting others to follow suit. If approved by Winston-Salem City Councilmembers, the program there could be ready to roll out in early spring.