Struggling To Launch A New Violence Reduction Initiative In Mt. Pleasant

entrance to mt pleasant now
The entrance to Mt Pleasant Now's offices just off Kinsman Road in Cleveland. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
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Back in 2018, former Cleveland mayoral candidate Robert Kilo and pastors from the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood were joined by Indiana-based representatives of a violence reduction initiative to announce its launch in Cleveland.

The program never took hold in Cleveland, beyond some initial media exposure.

“I think anytime something new is introduced to a city like Cleveland that's been doing things a certain way, it can create potential challenges,” Kilo said. “But I would suggest it just hasn't been the right timing previously.”

The Ten Point Coalition organizers approached the attorney general’s office for funding at the time and while they said the response there was positive, the City of Cleveland did not participate beyond initial conversations.

Since then, the violence in Cleveland has gotten much worse. As of Nov. 28, there were 163 murders in Cleveland in 2020, up 52 from the same period the previous year.

“It was sometime in late September, early October, it had gotten so overwhelming for me that I backed away for a couple of weeks,” said Rev. Jimmy Gates, pastor of Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Mt Pleasant. “It had gotten so overwhelming for me, emotionally I just couldn’t take it. I was just drained.”

Gates said he came to the end of his rope at the end of a week where he served as pastor for five funerals.

“We’ve gotta somehow get a hold of this thing and get a hold of the people that are hurt so they can stop hurting other people,” Gates said.

Up Close And Personal

It seems like everyone in Mt. Pleasant has had a close-up view of this year’s violence.

Nicholas Perry runs the area’s community development corporation – Mt Pleasant NOW. One murder happened right outside his office building on Kinsman Avenue back in March.

“I stood over and watched a young man take his last breath in front of me,” Perry said. “It's very personal to me. Our building has been shot up twice. We've had to replace windows. I'm taking this personal.”

Perry hasn’t given up on establishing the Ten Point Coalition in Cleveland. He and other Cleveland organizers are still partnered with the Ten Point Coalition in Indianapolis, preparing to launch a pilot in Mt. Pleasant based on the Indiana model.

“We're working at our own pace because we only get one chance,” Perry said. “We tried it once and it wasn't as effective. We want to make sure that when we come at it again, we want to have all bells and whistles going.”

Ten Point is a faith-based approach to a popular form of violence reduction, with a focus on small geographic areas and using pastors along with street outreach workers who typically were involved in violence at one time, to try and prevent shootings, offer kids jobs and support to get them off the streets.

But there are already several violence reduction initiatives in Cleveland: the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance is the city-supported group and other independent groups like Peace in the Hood have been around for years.

According to Perry, there was backlash from bringing in outsiders to set up a new program with the Ten Point Coalition, but those concerns should now be set aside.

“We’ve reached a tipping point where this needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach because just the peace alliance, just Peace in the Hood, just other organizations working separately aren’t going to fix this,” he said.

A similar thing happened in Indianapolis, when Ten Point tried to move across town with its initiative and groups already there saw the effort as a threat.

Rev. Charles Harrison, president of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, said bringing the program to Cleveland two years ago went nowhere largely because the city and the mayor’s office did not welcome it.

“That is a challenge that we’re facing, not only in Cleveland and Indianapolis, but in cities across the country where they have some kind of initiative on the ground, but it’s not producing the results that people want to see,” Harrison said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's administration did not respond to ideastream's questions about opposition to the program.

Seeing Results In Indiana – And Some Of The Same Opposition

Even with some opposition, the Ten Point violence reduction model has gotten results in Indianapolis. One neighborhood went from three murders in one year to none the next, another went two years without a young person being killed after the model was introduced.

Involvement of the city is crucial to the program, Harrison said. Outreach workers need to be able to help connect residents to services, and they need police to provide crime data and information about individuals involved.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a city-run version of the program produced a 73 percent drop in crime in one neighborhood. Fort Wayne UNITED Director Iric Headley works with Ten Point there and to spread the program to new cities. He wasn’t surprised about the roadblocks faced in Cleveland.

“The ‘Hey, this guy doesn't like this guy,’ the behind the scenes calls, the politics of it. The, this guy rises up and says, ‘I'm the leader,’ this guy over here says, ‘No, he's just popular and on TV but we do all the work,’” that happens in every city Headley works with, he said.

What really surprised Headley in Cleveland was the lack of involvement from city officials.

“Whatever took place in Cleveland before, I wasn't part of that,” Headley said. “There's a manual on how we did ours. How you launch. How you market it. How many dollars you need.”

The plan in Cleveland, according to everyone involved, is still to launch a pilot program in Mt. Pleasant using that manual, in early 2021.

Gates, from Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant, is a Mt. Pleasant NOW board member and familiar with the Ten Point Coalition. He believes clergy members can reach some of the Cleveland’s young men, even in the middle of the violence.

“They still have a level of respect for men and women of God,” said Gates, who described the reactions of young people who he'd happen to pass by in the middle of a drug deal. "You would be surprised how often I encounter people who know who I am and they will say, ‘Oh, Reverend, sorry, I didn't want you to see that.’”

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