Hakiem Yahmadi of S.O.S. South Bronx indicates the area the anti-violence initiative is expanding to cover.
Hakiem Yahmadi of S.O.S. South Bronx indicates the area the anti-violence initiative is expanding to cover.

Year-old initiative patterned after acclaimed Chicago model

S.O.S. (Save Our Streets) South Bronx, an anti-gun violence program that employs former gang members to mediate conflict on the Mott Haven streets is expanding to Morrisania, where there have been two gun-related deaths already this year.

“We had already put that area on as a target zone we wanted to work in before the recent shootings happened,” said Hakiem Yahmadi, its program manager. He’s no stranger himself to the devastating impact of gun violence. Yahmadi’s son was shot and killed in Mott Haven in 2001. His other son later joined a rival gang in response to the killing.

“We’re out there every day, having conversations with the guys on the streets, asking them to put their guns down, offering them alternatives and seeing if we can mediate their beefs,” Yahmadi said. “We’ve been having a lot of luck around here, but it just flared up, out of the blue.”

The program is modeled after CureViolence, a Chicago program where former gang members work with people on the streets to stop violence and mediate conflicts before they get bloody. S.O.S. South Bronx employs several “violence interrupters” who identify hotspots and high-risk individuals to mediate neighborhood beefs. S.O.S. South Bronx first launched in December 2012 with a $500,000 grant from the City Council.

The organization targets the area between 147th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue and 156th Street and Union Avenue, where there is a concentration of public housing developments like Moore Houses and Jackson Houses on Cortlandt Avenue, with crews who often fight each other, Yahmadi said.

“Moore Houses is beefing with Courtlandt,” Yahmadi said. “Years ago Courtlandt and Moore Houses used to hang out. For some reason they went their own ways. At the end of the day innocent people get shot and it just goes back and forth.”

Shootings in Mott Haven dropped from 51 in 2012 to 31 in the organization’s first year, according to NYPD statistics, but gun violence is still prevalent throughout nearby areas. In January, Damian Nunez, 23, was shot dead in a building at the Forest Houses in Morrisania. A few weeks later, Darin Capehart, a 25-year-old disabled man, was shot and killed when three men ambushed him in the lobby of an apartment building on Forest Avenue.

“I don’t even know what happened,” Linette Capehart, Darin’s mother said last week at a 42nd Precinct community meeting. “The guy that got shot with him, he’s in the hospital but he’s not saying anything so I don’t know.”

In the aftermath of this new spurt of violence, Daniel Barber, a Melrose native and volunteer with S.O.S. is helping put together the team in Morrisania. The new program will have its own team of seven outreach workers to monitor the area and look to mediate high-risk conflicts where guns may be involved, Barber said.

“A violence interrupter is someone who was the cause of the violence at one point in their life,” Barber said. “They have credibility on the street and with some change in their lives they can go back to the neighborhood to make things better.”

S.O.S. South Bronx also creates a risk reduction plan with each of its participants, Yahmadi said.

“We find out where they are at in school, if they want to take a GED, if they have a drug problem and we help them get the resources they need to move forward,” he said.

“We have to get the young people off the street, they need to feel that they are wanted and loved. As mixed up as it may seem, they feel their life on the street is a family and they don’t get that anywhere else,” Barber said.

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