As a “violence interrupter” for Bronx Connect’s Release the Grip office, a Bronx site for the global nonprofit Cure Violence, Samuel Jackson, a 39-year-old former gang member used his personal experience to persuade young gang members to walk away from violent showdowns. Now, he spends 14 hours a day on a new turf: Facebook and Instagram, the Wall Street Journal reports. As heated social media exchanges fuel gang violence, Release the Grip has gone digital, aiming to prevent the next fatal shooting by defusing charged online confrontations.
“I didn’t have [social media] growing up,” said Jackson, who was convicted of assault at 16 and spent six years in prison. “Now the young individuals coming up behind my generation, they have that outlet.” Social media rapidly escalates tension between gangs and many of the gang shootings last year were rooted in an exchange on social media. Gangs promote themselves online, said Robert Boyce, New York City chief of detectives. “The gang members who had spent the past screaming at each other and threatening each other in the streets were now doing it in social media,” said Richard Aborn of the New York Citizens Crime Commission, a nonprofit focusing on crime and public safety policies. “When people scream at each other in the streets, when it’s over, it’s over. When people scream at each other on Facebook, it stays there.” New York University and the crime commission launched an “E-Responder” pilot last year to train interrupters to identify risky posts and communicate to young people the repercussions of aggressive online behavior.