CBS exclusively reported Friday that in what they called “drastic measures to fight crime,” Mayor Ras Baraka had gone “straight to the source” and personally met with parolees, probationers, and gang members at Bethany Baptist Church on West Market Street. Per the terms of the meeting, CBS reported, police offers stood outside, while Nation of Islam members provided the security inside the meeting.
Police commissioner Eugene Venable said this type of engagement could help reduce violence in the city, and denied CBS reporter Christine Sloan’s suggestion that the move was “like catering to criminals.”
“No, no, no,” Venable said in response, “we have to reach out to people. People have to have an opportunity to change their lives. Someone has to do it.”
CBS also interviewed unidentified gang members who had attended the meeting, and who said the proceedings had left them “in tears”. One commented: “If you sat there through the whole thing, and you listened to everything the man had to say — if it didn’t touch you, then your soul [is] gone.”
“[Mayor Baraka] made me wanna do something different with myself,” he continued.
Mayor Baraka pledged during the mayoral campaign to enact precisely this type of tactic as part of his “Project Chill” initiative, which included “intensely engaging with gangs.” After controversy arose over Baraka writing letters to a judge on behalf of high-ranking, convicted Bloods gang member Al-Tariq Gumbs, who Baraka said subsequently helped with gang conflict resolution, he doubled down on writing the letters, telling PolitickerNJ, “When these people [who commit violent acts in the community] get caught, it gives us an opportunity to get them to help us stop other kids from going down that path.”
The “call-in” or “notification” meeting is a variation on the crime reduction model pioneered by Operation Ceasefire in Boston in the 1990s, and replicated in other cities since then. Some cities and neighborhoods that have launched Ceasefire campaigns in targeted areas have reported between one-third and two-thirds reductions in gun violence.
Watch the entire CBS segment below:
Image: CBS News report screenshot