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Checking Up With The 'Peacemakers' Ahead Of The RNC

How might Cleveland use the Peacemakers along with police during the RNC? (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

It's been about six months since the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance was restructured and fell under the management of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland.  The group continues to work to diffuse violence in Cleveland neighborhoods, but now with 16 full-time staffers instead of a collection of part-time stakeholders. 

For an update on the group's progress, and a brief idea how it might be used during the RNC, ideastream's Tony Ganzer spoke with Peacemakers' director Sharyna Cloud, and the Boys and Girls Clubs president Ron Soeder...who said setting up a new governing structure and hiring the right people was important for the group to get to work:

SOEDER: “I think we’ve got the ground rules established, we’ve got the folks in place, and to me that was the most important thing: getting the right people on the team at the right time.”

GANZER: “The Peacemakers before was kind of a piecemeal effort of different groups.  Sharyna, I wonder is there a big difference in how the Peacemakers are functioning now, the violence interrupters are functioning now that it’s full-time employees instead of this piecemeal approach?”

CLOUD: “Absolutely, Tony.  Of course with full-time employment comes full-time attention, number one.  Number two, it gives them better structure and a better direction to move in.  We have the weekly staff meetings where we talk a lot about the intimacy of the city of Cleveland and what’s going on specifically in certain neighborhoods. I get to see more closely where their skill-level is, also to know where to direct some training.  Their heart has always been in it, so that just gives them another level of comfort and another level of tenacity to go after.”

GANZER: “Ron, last time we spoke you said you would have to accept that maybe your geographical coverage wasn’t as much, because now you do have full-time employees instead of so many more people, but only on a part-time basis.  Have you seen much of a difference in coverage and how quickly you can respond to things that are happening?”

SOEDER: “I think we see better control from our standpoint, because when you had money being shared across a broader audience, you know, if you’re an outreach worker and you’re making $8-$9,000 a year from the outreach because you’re being given a partial share, you’re going to have to find another job, you’re going to have to do something, you’re going to have other priorities. We demanded really three things when we started this: 1) we were going to commit to full-time employment. 2) We were going to commit to having benefits and pension plans and make this a really legitimate job, if you will. And so we were going to expect from those folks that they would be more consistent. So I think we’re seeing more consistency, better span of control, and more coordination. Now, I will tell you that when you had 35 people out there you were able to mobilize on certain issues a little bit better than we can.  But I think this is really the right model, and it gives us more of a partnership relation with the outreach worker, as opposed to feeling like a volunteer and ‘I could make it or I couldn’t.’”

CLOUD: “I agree with everything Ron said, but I would add that the partnership also extends over to the community.  Because we know since we don’t have as many individuals because they are all full-time, we really push for that community participation to help police ourselves. And not so much that you’re telling what’s going on, you’re just being watchful, you’re just doing your civic duty anyway. So that helps us to also add to that level of partnership with the community where they can feel inclusive of their own neighborhoods, where many in the past have felt like they were hostage because of what was  going on.”

GANZER: “What does preparation for the Republican National Convention look like for you and the work of the Peacemakers Alliance?”

CLOUD: “We are still kind of sifting through that with law enforcement.  They would like for us to be involved, so we’re still waiting for a little more direction on which way they would like for us to participate in that.  But I know that our work will still be in the communities in which we are already monitoring, and we’re out and about throughout the day now.”

GANZER: “Before some of the groups affiliated with the Peacemakers Alliance would come downtown and kind of act as on-the-scene violence interrupters, to use that term.  Do you foresee that happening, even with the security bubble?  Or would this be maybe staying in the communities and keeping contact with people there?”

CLOUD: “That will probably be more of our role, because they will have such a large amount of law enforcement security already downtown.  Our role will still continue to be in the community, and still continue to massage those relationships and just being the eyes and ears on the ground there, evenly to assist those individuals that we’re trying to help already, and then also just trying to maintain order in the community.”

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.