Group Violence Intervention has arrived in the City of South Bend.
“This is the way we’re going to do business from now on in South Bend,” said Sgt. Dominic Zultanski with the South Bend Police Department.
On Thursday night, a group of people who want gun violence to stop, sat down—face to face—with a group of people who have been linked to shooting incidents of the recent past.
21 young men with gang or group affiliations were forced to come to a meeting with members of the community as a condition of parole or probation.
You might be surprised what they heard.
“The way we've done business in South Bend, like a lot of other police departments we've been wrong, and I'll stand before all you like I did the gentlemen last night and apologize on behalf of the police department, I'm sorry,” said Uniform Division Chief Scott Ruszkowski. “What we’ve done to stop the shootings and the violence hasn’t worked. We’ve tried a lot of things and it hasn’t worked.
Hopefully this does.”
The police weren’t the only ones showing a softer side.
Turns out the hardened criminals weren’t so hardened after all.
“Some of them tried to cover their face, there was one that I saw that was involved that was actively weeping,” said Clifford Johnson, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana.
Weeping as he heard the story of Terrell Woods who was gunned down 11 years ago at a South Bend Burger King.
Woods’ mother, Bobbie spoke at Thursday night’s intervention. “And I went up to several of them and first of all I said, ‘can I give you a hug?’ Because some of those young men are just hurting. There's anger, but they're also hurting and they need love.
Since her son’s death, Woods has organized an annual march against violence. This week, she went so far as to use the intervention to try to enlist new marchers.
“As I was getting in my car, and one was getting in his car he looked back at me and he said, ‘we'll be there.’ So I'll say that yes, they heard the message, they understand,” said Bobbie Woods.
The intervention message was that violence will not be tolerated by the community, although that community is a caring one that stands ready to help anyone change their ways through things like job training, drug treatment, and social services.
“We’re giving these young men an opportunity to make a rational choice for themselves,” said Clifford Johnson. “We hope that they choose to put down the guns and stop the shooting. We told them what would happen to the group if they did not make that choice.”
Gangs that continue their violent ways were told members would be carefully scrutinized by law enforcement and prosecuted for anything and everything: Whether they’re receiving more cable TV than they’re paying for, behind in their child support, or receiving too much in government benefits.
“Many of them really don’t want to be the worst of the worst, but they feel themselves trapped and we’re offering them an off ramp and we hope that they take it,” said Johnson.