An outreach worker for Baltimore’s Safe Streets program was among 12 people wounded at a cookout Sunday, a development that could cast unwanted attention on a well-regarded group known for mediating conflict out of view of law enforcement, the Baltimore Sun reports. Steven Bountress of the Living Classrooms Foundation, which administers the Safe Streets program, said the unidentified worker suffered multiple gunshot wounds and remained in the hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.
Safe Streets, the Baltimore Health Department’s replication of Chicago’s heralded CeaseFire program, places ex-offenders in the community to mediate disputes and provide outreach to high-risk youths. Workers negotiate truces and sometimes broker side deals between drug dealers in an effort to avoid gun violence. Safe Streets workers can be successful only if they remain independent of law enforcement, officials say. Now one of those workers is a victim and a witness to a shooting involving major players in what police call a “drug war.” “If [the outreach workers are] going to have any impact in doing what they’re trying to do, which is trying to convince people not to shoot each other, they have to be trusted,” said Daniel Webster of the Center for Prevention of Youth Violence at Johns Hopkins University. “If the belief is that the Safe Streets workers will go to police with information about stuff that’s going on, then nobody will talk to them and there will be absolutely no chance for them to have an impact.”