By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
Emergency room staff at MetroHealth will soon have another hand on deck to help with trauma victims. The Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance will place a violence interrupter in the level I trauma center ER to help curb the cycle of violence and retaliation among stabbing and gunshot victims ages 15 to 25.
The program, based on a national model used in Chicago, Baltimore and New York City, will place Jeff Crosby, a mediator from the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance and former gang member, in the ER to diffuse tension and provide options, besides retaliation and continued violence, to victims and their loved ones. United Way of Greater Cleveland provided funding, alongside the Cleveland Foundation, for the violence interrupter initiative.
The Peacemakers Alliance is a cohort of former gang members and/or ex-criminals from several outreach organizations. Members build relationships with community members and offer alternative lifestyle choices to at-risk youth. It was officially formed in 2010, and has since changed leadership to Director Sharyna Cloud, falling under the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s guidance.
The group focuses its efforts on hotspots for violence throughout the city. Using data from the Cleveland Police Department on where homicides occur most often, The Peacemakers Alliance targets areas in the St. Clair-Superior, Hough, Mt. Pleasant, Clark-Fulton, Central and Kinsman/Harvard neighborhoods.
Violence interrupters leverage the “street credibility” of its members to diffuse tensions in the ER, by giving the victim and their family someone to talk to, other than a social worker, who has a familiarization with their situations.
“What better person to [mediate] then someone who’s possibly been shot, been in a gang, been through the correctional system and has returned to the same community and transitioned,” Cloud said.
Curing a city’s disease
As Cleveland’s only Level 1 trauma center, MetroHealth’s ER sees an average of 123 gunshot and 32 stabbing victims ages 15 to 20 per year, according to data from Northeast Ohio Trauma System’s (NOTS) 2014 annual report. A very impressionable age, teens and young adults between 15 and 25 are at the highest risk, Cloud said.
“Because of the cognitive ability and maturing level, that is the age we know will take the most risk and are the most impressionable,” she said. “Around the nation, that age group has proven to be at most risk of becoming a victim or perpetrating gun violence.”
While this age group is the most susceptible to the cycle of violence — be them perpetrators, victims or innocent bystanders — they are also the most open to change.
Patients brought into the ER are identified by social workers at the hospital as those that may benefit from the program, Cloud said. Once they agree to speak with the violence interrupter, the mediator will meet with the patient and their friends and family. The interrupter may refer friends, family or the victim to further counseling or other programs.
Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance is rolling out the program at MetroHealth first, but hopes to expand it to University Hospitals, Cloud said, as it receives around 40 percent of the city’s gunshot victims annually.
The Alliance and hospital staff are working on the logistics of the program and are unsure of how often the violence interrupter will be in the ER. Currently, projected times are from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends, but times may change as other needs and trends develop, she said.
The goal of The Peacemakers Alliance and the violence interrupters is to break the cycle of violence in Cleveland’s communities by giving young adults other lifestyle options.
“What we try to do is take the desire away for you to join a gang, by providing you with access to other things you can do and hopefully the individual will begin to choose those paths, versus gangs.”