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.