Sep 7, 2009

Literally Leaning Into Conflict

Today's NY Times has a compelling article about the Reverend Vernon Williams, a pastor who sees it as his mission to interrupt violent conflict in Harlem. Possessing himself a criminal record for drug addiction and guns possession, Rev. Williams has turned his life toward helping younger generations in Harlem.

In addition to presenting this very human story of tragedy and rehabilitation, the article speaks to an issue that the Harlem Community Justice Center has been working on for some time: gangs.

At least seven major gangs operate in an area bordered roughly by West 125th Street, West 155th Street, Fifth Avenue, St. Nicholas Avenue and Harlem River Drive, according to residents and community leaders. They include G.M.B., short for Get Money Boyz; F.S.U., which uses two profanities in its name; O.T.N., short for 129; and G.F., meaning GoodFellas.

While these may be the major gangs, there are a number of smaller, more localized "crews" that function very similarly, often in public housing projects. They are loose conglomerates of young men and women, and their more dispersed structure than traditional "gangs" has made it a much more difficult public safety program to address. For some time, the Justice Center has seen a need for some kind of coordinating body addressing these gang issues among police, community members, schools, and faith leaders -- much like the Upper Manhattan Reentry Task Force has done around the issue of adult prison reentry. This article highlights how successful the efforts of even one committed man can be -- perhaps a collaboration of stakeholders could take a page from his book.