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Activists weigh in on York City's anti-violence plan

Christopher Dornblaser
505-5436/@YDDornblaser

Since Aug. 6, eight people have been shot in York City. In response, the city anti-violence group Stop the Violence organized another march to spread their message of peace. The march went from the city's Continental Square to the corner of Princess and Pine streets.

The event came just days after Mayor Kim Bracey and York City Police Chief Wes Kahley presented CeaseFire, a three-year program meant to reduce violent crime, to the city council.

The local activists said they thought the program could work, but they also had concerns about getting through to the very youngest of those engaging in criminal activity. And some wondered if a national program would resonate here in York City.

York City mayor, chief present CeaseFire to council

CeaseFire York: The program is based on the premise that a small  number of people in any city are perpetrating the vast majority of violent crimes, so it follows that to cut down on the violent crime, law enforcement has to identify and target that small group of people, who are often involved in gangs or the drug trade, according to nationally renowned criminologist David M. Kennedy.

Under Kennedy's program, police work with social services and community partners to identify and then "call in"  — often using the probation department or some other immediate threat of arrest — violent offenders to a moderated community meeting. In the weeks before, law enforcement will likely have carried out a major raid on one of the local criminal groups to show that the cops mean business, according to what's essentially a broad how-to guide Kennedy's organization has for these programs.

At the meetings, authorities offer the attending criminals first a "moral message against the violence," then a helping hand in the form of social-services programs, such as mental-health treatment, education and job-placement programs. And then there's the threat: Take the carrot, or else the heavy stick of the criminal-justice system will come down on the entire gang if any one member shoots someone.

Lattice Brown, of York City, holds up a sign as she walks with Stop the Violence activists and supporters up East Princess Street to meet up with other activists on South Pine Street on  Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. A number of shootings have occurred in the past few weeks, which prompted the gathering for awareness. Amanda J. Cain photo

Activists: "I kind of like that idea," march organizer John Beck said, referring to the CeaseFire initiative.

Larry Tyler, of York City, was there on behalf of his church, Stillmeadow Church of Nazarene. Unlike Beck, Tyler has some doubts regarding the proposed plans.

"It might work for some people," he said, adding that he thought it could affect the older offenders who might know the weight of their potential crime. But he doesn't know if it will be effective with younger people because he doesn't think they will care about the consequences as much.

Tyler's main concern, he said, is gun violence.

Community activist Jamiel Alexander said after reading some of the statistics regarding CeaseFire, he was cautiously optimistic about the program. But just because the program has worked well nationally, he said, doesn't mean it will work in York.

"Local is always different," he said.

York City Chief: Sitting down with the community

Alternatives: Tyler said he believes background checks should be more rigorous when people buy guns, and there should be stricter guidelines. Tyler acknowledged that it wouldn't stop all gun violence, because some get their guns illegally, but it would affect violent offenders who try to get guns legally.

"It'll put a little dent in it," he said.

Organizer John Beck talks with Sylvia Kelly, right, both of York City as Stop the Violence activists and supporters gather at continental square Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. A number of shootings have occurred in the past few weeks which prompted the gathering for awareness. Amanda J. Cain photo

York City resident Tania Salisbury shared similar thoughts. Salisbury's son, Domminique Salisbury, was the best friend of Na'Gus Griggs, who was shot and killed in September 2014. Salisbury was at the march with a sign in remembrance of Griggs.

18 to 40 years for Na'Gus Griggs' killer

"I wish they could get rid of all these guns," she said.

Salisbury said she thought CeaseFire could potentially help the community.

Salisbury also stressed that there should be more affordable activities for young kids, such as organized sports.

Participants said the march is a way to remind people that there are many residents in York City who seek an end to the violence.

Tania Salisbury, of York City, holds up posters in remembrance of Na'Gus Lamar Griggs, who was killed back in 2014, while Stop the Violence activists and supporters gather at continental square Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. A number of shootings have occurred in the past few weeks which prompted the gathering for awareness. Amanda J. Cain photo

Alexander said he believes the visibility of the group shows that there are people who care about and want to improve their city.

Beck said he doesn't have all the answers when it comes to stopping the violence.

"All I can do is keep marching," he said.

For more information on the group, check its Facebook page.

Yorkers march again to stop violence

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.