Memphis Joins Trend of Hiring Ex-Gang Members To Mediate Disputes


Convicted felons and former gang members seeking contract work for the city of Memphis found that their backgrounds actually helped them bubble to the top of a deep pile of applicants, says the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The blemish-free weren’t even considered as officials whittled the list of 62 job seekers down to the final five, said Peggie Russell, who manages the Handgun Violence Reduction project for Mayor A C Wharton’s Innovation Delivery Team. Memphis is trying something new to tackle its pervasive gang problem: a team of unarmed mediators to work in crime-riddled areas to quell gang tensions and other disputes. Street smarts and gang knowledge are expected to be essential for the intervention team members to excel — and survive.

“For many years, they were part of the destruction, tearing the community down, and now they’re expected to be part of the solution,” Russell said. “If there is a shooting, they are expected to get in there and prevent retaliation.” The Memphis program called Better Lives, Opportunities & Communities — and dubbed “901 BLOC Squad” — will target youths ages 13-24 and will track homicides, aggravated robberies and aggravated assaults in the two crime hot zones. The creative approach to crime reduction is part of a national trend that began in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles more than a decade ago. Dr. Gary Slutkin, an infectious disease specialist, launched Chicago’s CeaseFire, recently renamed Cure Violence, to tackle gang violence as an epidemic.

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