Reformed Ex-Con Tries to Intervene on Gun Violence in Harlem

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Beloved (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

As the sun was setting over Central Harlem on a recent evening, 33-year-old Dedric Hammond, better known as Beloved, was getting ready to start his work day.

The two-time felon and reformed gang member works full time as what’s known as a violence interrupter for the NYC Mission Society’s Operation SNUG program: his job is to stop disputes before they escalate to gun violence. He also does similar work for another organization called Street Corner Resources.

Sometimes that means eavesdropping on conversations in the streets or scanning Facebook for threats or other signs of trouble.  

“We try to figure out who the people are who the major players are in these situations,” Beloved said.

Winning the trust of young men is a big part of what Beloved does. At the corner of 7th Avenue and 132nd Street, near where he grew up, a group of half a dozen young men were recently hanging out in front of a corner bodega.  

(Photos by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

They greeted Beloved with loose hugs and hand shakes. He called the young men family and said they belonged to the same street gang he started when he was 11 years old. He’s no longer affiliated with the gang.  

A 25-year old, who would only give his name as Antoine, said the sound of gun shots are constant in the neighborhood: “After a while things you get used to it.  It’s not something that’s good but that’s just how things are,” he said.  

Antoine said his group tries to heed Beloved’s message of non-violence. He says they don’t use guns, but they do use their fists.  

“We knuckle up. You know a little five-minute fight,” he said, “and then after we slap each other five and say it’s going to be alright.”

The violence of the streets is something Beloved knows well. He’s been to prison twice. And he’s been shot twice – once in the middle of Seventh Avenue, a few feet from where the young men were standing.

Beloved described the fight:  “I’m not backing down. He not backing down so he pulls out and he squeeze.  He shoot me two times in my stomach.”

He said the bullets ricocheted through his body 21 times. He wasn’t carrying a gun that day, and had already been contemplating changing his life. Beloved said a rational side came over him and he no longer felt the desire to retaliate.  

As a violence interrupter, Beloved spends a lot of time inside hospitals visiting gun shot victims because that’s when they contemplate retaliation.

“We dealing with a situation where a kid got shot in the shoulder,” Beloved said.  “He was right here at Harlem Hospital we had to come in here and talk to him.”

In this instance, Beloved said the young man seemed open to ending the dispute and putting his gun down.  

But the work can be frustrating.

Last month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced the takedown of a street crew that allegedly controlled a portion of 129th Street by using guns and physical violence.

The charges against the group – which ranges in age from 17- to 25-years old -included conspiracy, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal sale of a weapon, and two were charged with attempted murder.  

Beloved said he knew several of the men and believed they had turned a corner and were on their way to changing their lives.

“I really don’t want to talk about it because it was that sad,” he said. “It wasn’t like I had worked with them today and haven’t seen them for years. I still was working with them.”

One of those arrested in last month’s gang takedown was a student at the Harlem Renaissance School on 128th Street. After the arrests, Beloved’s boss organized a so-called “rescue” workshop for high-risk students there.

“This is a preventive measure,” Iesha Sekou told the group of 19 young men who reluctantly attended. “People might say, ‘Aint nothing gonna happen to me.’ Well, last week when they took somebody out of here, something happened to him. We didn’t expect that.”

The young men crossed their arms and slouched in their chairs while speakers addressed them. One was a well dressed black man who spoke to them about swallowing their pride and cooperating with police even when they feel disrespected.

“Arguing with a police officer is only going to make the situation worse,” Captain Kevin Williams told the students. “I’m gonna be honest with you: I’m a police officer.”

Once he identified himself, the resentment in the room grew palpable and students grew raucous at times. The young men questioned why they were regularly thrown up against walls and stopped and frisked.

Williams told the young men most crimes are committed by blacks and Latinos and he questioned why they would hang out on street corners known for crime and violence.

When Beloved got up to speak, the students grew silent. He explained the level of violence that could result from associating with gang members.

“Tomorrow when I pop one dude his whole crew is comin’ to your house. They comin’ to your house, my house, my little girl’s cousin’s house, my mother’s best friend’s house. Just because we affiliated,” he said.

Beloved seemed to be both scaring and intriguing the young men. Before ending, he lead them in a chant:

“I am my brother’s keeper.  The love that I have for myself I share with my brothers.  And that’s my peace.”

The young men shouted back each phrase, their voices filling the room.

(Photos by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)


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Comments [14]

online medical assistant programs

Thanks for finally writing about >Reformed Ex-Con Tries
to Intervene on Gun Violence in Harlem - WNYC

Mar. 06 2013 11:50 PM
Carl Landegger from Brooklyn NY

Brother if you need any help from the art community please email me!!!

We got your back!!!

Dec. 08 2011 07:26 PM
Courtney A. Bennett from Harlem

Thank you for highlighting the important work that Beloved does to reduce shootings and killings in Harlem streets. As one of two Violence Interrupters for Operation SNUG in Harlem , Beloved has been responsible for numerous mediations and the resolution of dozens of conflicts that could have escalated into more serious violent acts.

Clarification: While SNUG staff works alongside many wonderful and courageous organizations including Street Corner Resources led by Sister Iesha Sekou, Beloved and the SNUG staff are not employees of those organizations.

Harlem Operation SNUG is a program of New York CIty Mission Society and uses the CeaseFire Chicago model. It was started through funds from the NYS Senate. Senator Bill Perkins selected Mission Society deliver this program.

The Harlem Operation SNUG team has six Outreach Workers and two violence interrupters on staff. The program is led by Ms. Robin Holmes who is the SNUG Project Director. Mr. Karim Chapman, the SNUG Outreach Supervisor, manages the 8-person outreach team.

Dec. 08 2011 07:14 PM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York City

Dedric Hammond is helping to forge a better Harlem by aligning with actualizing peace on its streets.

Dedric Hammond with his worldly experience has compassionately given the theme of a new Harlem legitimacy.

GOD Bless Dedric Hammond and all who are dedicated for a peaceful and fair Harlem.

Dec. 08 2011 04:59 PM

i'm so proud of you.for what u have done n still's nice to see one of my classmate do good

Dec. 08 2011 04:06 PM
Dale from Hells Kitchen

God is real , because he changed this man life completely around , I could be a witness.

Dec. 08 2011 03:23 PM
Tiffany from nyc

I am so glad that this young man took his own experienced and share with the world I am happy he survive this so if he ever run across my son or anybody else's that can get through to them..

Dec. 08 2011 02:45 PM
Billy Council from NYC

Great work has always been done by Dedric and he will make a difference.

Dec. 08 2011 02:36 PM
Jab from NYC

I read this and laugh, Dedric is my brother from another mother.For years i told him your meant to do things in a big way. You reach young people in ways no one else can. Im glad i kept telling him that because he finally sees what i saw and hes helping a lot families save their kids. Thank you brah

Dec. 08 2011 02:08 PM
Sharon from Memphis,Tn

I am Dedric's SISTER I am proud of the change he made in his life one because he gave his life to Christ and secondly to fix what you made wrong is what God wants from us, yes it is a battle that is going to be hard and he can not do it alone. I thank God for all the ones that allowed him the opportunity to reform himself. Keep doing what you do little brother. May God bless and give you strength! "It takes a village to raise a child"

Dec. 08 2011 12:42 PM
Nicole M from NYC_Harlem

I am reading the comments that people are writing and i dont feel like anything is positive in what you guys are saying! Whats does a name have to do with what is going on with the children in these communities and why would say Good Luck instood of just wanting to help! thats crazy to me!! I am not a mother but I do have family in the streets that I deeply care about! One of my brothers told me "Its not personally until its personally"... Lets not wait til then to want to do something step up to the plate HELP now not LATER!! I am very strong and sensitive about this topic!! Come on GUYS open your eyes! Enough said because I might just get out of hand and that God would not like! So everybody have a BLESS DAY!

Dec. 08 2011 12:33 PM

Sensing a certain discomfort at Beloved's chosen name, may I remind us that that is the English for a frequently given name: "David."

Thanks for talking about this important community work!

Dec. 08 2011 11:41 AM
Mom_from_Brooklyn from brooklyn

‘Aint nothing gonna happen to me.’ Funny how that double negative makes an ingnorant statement acurate! I wish Dedric a lot of luck - at least he has street credibility. Sadly he has an enormous battle & I can't help but wonder how much these young (men) really do "love" themselves. I am friends with an Emergency Room Dr. at Brookdale (think "expert in gunshot wounds and stabbings") who sees all the caring souls come out of the woodwork when a victim arrives in his ward - and this Dr. is disgusted by the scene. The folks in these communities need to 'love' these kids BEFORE they are wheeled off to the nearest ER.

Dec. 08 2011 09:52 AM
joelle from nyc

I have so much respect for anyone who can change. It's so difficult.

Dec. 08 2011 08:59 AM

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