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Cherry Hill Safe Streets Worker Fatally Shot As Gun Violence Spikes Across The U.S.

Two men walk past a sign spray painted on the sidewalk stating "No Shoot Zone" in Baltimore, Maryland, on Dec. 17, 2018. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Two men walk past a sign spray painted on the sidewalk stating "No Shoot Zone" in Baltimore, Maryland, on Dec. 17, 2018. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A man named Kenyell Wilson was shot and killed in the Cherry Hill neighborhood in Baltimore on Thursday night — another victim of gun violence that is on the rise in cities across the country.

As part of the Safe Streets Cherry Hill program, Wilson helped mediate conflicts before they turned deadly. He’s the second Safe Streets worker to die this year.

Hours before the shooting, violence prevention coordinator Troy Bradley told Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd that the neighborhood had gone a full year without a homicide. That celebration has now shifted to mourning. Bradley couldn’t be reached for comment on the shooting.

In the interview, Bradley says the program places violence interrupters in target areas that high-risk individuals — people who are likely to get shot or shoot someone — frequent.

“That violence interrupter that we place in that area … grew up in that area and has street credibility in that area,” he says. “But that violence interrupter has to be clean. You know, you can’t just be an active person that’s in the streets.”

Violence interrupters report information back to a confidential briefing team but the intel isn’t reported to police, he says. If word starts to spread about a woman getting physically abused, for example, the interrupters will reach out to her family members to try to mediate the conflict and stop violent retaliation before it occurs.

Bradley is no stranger to life in the streets of Cherry Hill. He’s been shot and sent to prison.

“It has to take, you know, one of your own,” he says, “because, you know, that’s the only way that you can engage with a high-risk individual.”

Outsiders can bring positivity and engage the community with events, Bradley says, but these efforts don’t stop the violence.

People like Bradley, however, are “cut from that [same] cloth” as the high-risk individuals that Safe Streets aims to help, he says.

“When I come to them and I’m looking for a favor or I’m looking for some information, there’s not a doubt in their mind that this information isn’t going to go any further,” Bradley says. “He know why I’m here. He know what my mission is. He know what side of the fence that I live on now. He know I’m simply trying to get ahead of this.”

Bradley sees a huge change now compared to the early 1990s in Cherry Hill — a neighborhood once nicknamed “Baby Afghanistan.”

For other communities hoping to make the same progress, Bradley says organizers need to live the message that they’re preaching.

“It’s a person that lives that message that it comes off, “ he says, “and it’s 10 times [more] effective than the hypocrite.”

Many similar programs in other parts of Baltimore are in their beginning stages and need time to continue developing, he says.

Last week, host O’Dowd asked Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott about the leader of Safe Streets, Dante Barksdale, who was shot to death in East Baltimore in January.

“Dante died doing what he did, trying to prevent someone from taking someone else’s life,” Scott said. “And we owe it to him to build upon his work and expand his work through the legacy of what we’re trying to do, because we know it works. It’s been proven to work.”

Bradley believes Barksdale would want the Safe Streets team to wipe away their tears and keep working to prevent violence in the neighborhood.

“We not gonna break down and, you know, allow this thing to crumble Safe Streets,” he says, “but instead, you know, to give us something to keep going and moving forward.”

Alexander Tuerk produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.