#OTGYpsi: Specialized programs show Ypsilanti's youth safer alternatives to resorting to gun violence
Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsilanti-founded Community Violence Intervention Team pursues 14 strategies to reduce gun violence
Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is On The Ground Ypsi, a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community. We bring you On The Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. And today, our focus is on a new approach to curbing violence in the Ypsilanti community by stopping the cycle of revenge. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter and On The Ground Ypsi project manager Sarah Rigg. Sarah's article this week focuses on the many elements of the Community Violence Intervention team that has been created to address community violence. Sarah, thanks so much for being with us.
Sarah Rigg: Thanks for having me, Cathy.
Cathy Shafran: So, can you give us an overview of what you found while reporting on this article?
Sarah Rigg: Well, we recently had Victim of Gun Violence Week, and it seemed like a good time to examine the Community Violence Intervention team, which is made up of a bunch of different community groups. It has many facets. It started in summer of 2021 when we had several violent shooting deaths of very young men, unfortunately, in Ypsilanti. And then-Mayor Lois Richardson sort of convened a group and said, "We've got to do something. We've got to come up with some practical suggestions for how we're going to address this. We've been talking about it. Now we need to take action." But it grew beyond her and involves the lots of local nonprofits like Supreme Felons and Washtenaw All My Brother's Keeper. It involves the sheriff's office. And then even within the sheriff's office, there are several different programs that address different parts of the violence cycle to stop it where it starts. And one of the things that they're really focused on is retaliatory violence, because that seems to be the majority of what's going on. Somebody gets shot because they're retaliating for something that was done to them earlier.
Cathy Shafran: And in your reporting, did you find any successes that they're reporting as a result? Obviously, it's a new program if it started in 2021, relatively new.
Sarah Rigg: Absolutely. Part of the program is WeLIVE, which seeks to intervene in that retaliation cycle. And they've had at least five individuals agree to work with them. So, just being willing to say, "Yes, I will put my retaliation, I'll put my revenge on hold and work with you for a while" is success a success right there. And there's been other successes along the way. But definitely for sure. They think they have intervened and probably stopped a minimum of five shootings in our community.
Cathy Shafran: Oh wow. And then there's the Mothers program?
Sarah Rigg: Right. So, there's all these different aspects. So, like, for instance, Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper has a program called Formula 734, and they do diversion. So, youth who might end up in the system instead can go through that program. And so, there's all these little pieces, and one of them is SureMoms. And it's for mothers who have youth who are in the system, who have been in the juvenile justice system, and it's a support group, so they can, you know, help each other navigate the system and hopefully intervene with their kids, so that when they come out of the juvenile justice system, they don't come back into a bad situation. Hopefully, they'll come back to in an improved home situation and again break that cycle.
Cathy Shafran: In Sarah's reporting this week, she actually talks extensively with several people who are actively involved in the WeLIVE program. And that's just one arm of that Community Violence Intervention Team is you're talking about.
Sarah Rigg: Correct.
Cathy Shafran: One of those people who are active in it is Trevonte Thomas. When he was 18 years old, Trevonte was shot accidentally by his friend. And that began a trail of anger that heightened further when his brother was shot and killed. And Trevonte is actually joining us now in the studio to help us understand how these programs work. And thanks for being with us.
Trevonte Thomas: Thank you for having me.
Cathy Shafran: And I was just wondering if you could share with us how this feeling of anger and violence within you and maybe this feel for retribution? How did it began?
Trevonte Thomas: I was off into the streets heavy. I was just doing a lot of things I shouldn't have been doing. So, I already had a lot of misplaced anger and getting shot by my best friend. And, you know, with social media around, it couldn't have just been I got shot by my best friend and it just happened. And we had our own emotions towards each other. Also, I had other people because the social media, you know, everybody started their $0.02 in and people were laughing at me about it. So, I feel like that's what really sparked more anger.
Cathy Shafran: When you say anger, what were you feeling?
Trevonte Thomas: I wanted them to feel my pain. People were, like, laughing at me because I was in the hospital. People thought I was dead and everything.
Cathy Shafran: What is it that drove this anger?
Sarah Rigg: Did you feel disrespected?
Trevonte Thomas: It was a lack of humanity. Like, I grew up with most of the people who were, like, thinking that, hoping that I was dead. Like, it was crazy. It was different. Definitely different.
Cathy Shafran: And you wanted to do what to them in your thoughts?
Trevonte Thomas: I wanted to bring harm to them. Definitely.
Cathy Shafran: Did it come to a point where you almost did?
Trevonte Thomas: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Cathy Shafran: Do you have a gun?
Trevonte Thomas: Oh, no.
Cathy Shafran: Did you, at the time, where you were thinking about retribution?
Trevonte Thomas: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Cathy Shafran: You did?
Trevonte Thomas: Yes, ma'am.
Cathy Shafran: And you were thinking about using that gun as a revenge?
Trevonte Thomas: Yes, ma'am. I feel like, in the age that we are right now, we just feel like we need to, especially our young, younger crowd, we feel like we need to always have a gun. And I needed an older, well-respected dude to really tell me, like, "You don't even need a gun." But I had it in my head convinced. I was trying to tell him that I needed it all the time. He was like, "Nah, you just in the wrong places." And four months after I had got shot, I had lost my grandma, who was like everything to me--like, raised me for real. So, once I lost her, like, I started, like, battling reality and all type of things. But, like, my grandma taught me something new every day, and I just couldn't let that all go to waste. I can't fall to the negativity, even though I wanted to so badly. I couldn't. And I had Derrick on my side also. Derrick came to see me when I was at the hospital.
Cathy Shafran: You mentioned Derrick. That would be Derrick Jackson from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department.
Trevonte Thomas: Mm hmm. Yes, ma'am.
Cathy Shafran: He found you where?
Trevonte Thomas: In the neighborhood. He lived right across the street from me.
Cathy Shafran: So, he knew of you?
Trevonte Thomas: Yeah.
Cathy Shafran: And he came to you. And he said what?
Trevonte Thomas: Really, he just gave me the opportunity to come to My Brother's Keeper and see what they were doing up there and just take me away from what I was doing. But, see, when I had met Derrick, I was too involved into the street. So, even though I was trying to, because I knew who we was, I still had, like, when I went home, I had to still deal with the stuff that was going on at home.
Sarah Rigg: I was just going to jump in here and say that's something Derrick talked about is that it's not just about telling stories. I mean, that's a super powerful part of it, telling your story, but it's providing practical resources. Like, if you go back into the same home situation and you don't feel safe, you're going to get a gun. And you're going to do whatever it takes to keep your family safe. You know, Derrick said to me, "These aren't evil people running around. You would do anything to keep yourself and your family safe."
Cathy Shafran: My Brother's Keeper. Can you explain to me what that involves and what it was?
Trevonte Thomas: It's just for us to meet up and share our resources, share was going on good in the neighborhood, the community.
Cathy Shafran: And did that spark an interest in you or a thought that there could be a different way of life?
Trevonte Thomas: Oh yeah. Derrick always makes me talk. And it's the most uncomfortable thing for me sometimes. And he had me talk in front of a whole bunch of people. He didn't even tell me. And once I told my story and I walked outside, I remember this mom coming up to me. She was crying. And she had her sons with her. I just seen the power that I have, and you don't even know you have it. That pushed me into doing this.
Cathy Shafran: What do you think made her cry? What were you talking about?
Trevonte Thomas: Just how scared I was. Thinking about death. What I was doing before. No mother wants to hear that. I don't think.
Cathy Shafran: You don't think that way anymore?
Trevonte Thomas: Oh no.
Cathy Shafran: And why not?
Trevonte Thomas: Derrick had contacted me right after my brother had died, and I was ready to crash out. Crash out means you're ready to do something dumb pretty much. And Derrick had got in contact with me again and told me that he was ready to start the WeLIVE group. And he needed my help. He just gave me the right resources. They helped me with housing. They helped me with completing my high school and stuff like that. It just gave me, I don't know, a different light on things.
Cathy Shafran: A different purpose, perhaps?
Trevonte Thomas: Yes, ma'am. Definitely.
Cathy Shafran: And what were how would you describe that purpose?
Trevonte Thomas: I feel like I'm here to open everybody's eyes to what's really going on, because, all day in the community, that reality that I was living in is still there. So, I want to just take the veil off people's eyes, so they can see what's really going on and just try to change their own situation. And I got to try to help and give them the resources to do the same.
Cathy Shafran: Have you seen yourself having an impact on somebody else who was like you four years ago?
Trevonte Thomas: Oh, yeah, definitely. My brother. I don't know. My friends too. We're not really in that reality that we were in. And I feel like we thought we were at the lowest lows. Like, we thought we were so broke that we didn't really have it, but we were better off. Not really as better off, but you got to be grateful for what you that. You know what I'm saying? Don't be driven off your emotions. You got to think. Definitely got to think before you do anything. And love yourself. Love yourself. I lost three people so far in the last two years to gun violence. Like, we got to cherish our life. We think that we're in the gutters. I mean, even though we might, it feels like we're in the gutter and we're at the bottom. We're at our lows. But. man, life is so important. And I just been seeing people, like, leaving. They used to be here, and it sucks. So, I got to change for the better for my siblings and my child and myself.
Cathy Shafran: Last question to you then, Sarah. The story that we hear from Trevonte. Is this just one of a multiple stories that that you were hearing as you were reporting on the arc?
Sarah Rigg: Absolutely. So, we talked to another gun violence survivor that you have had on the show, Roger Roper. And I'll just say very briefly, the one powerful thing that I remember him saying is that people who are in this mindset of revenge and retaliation, they think that they're getting even. They think that they're winning. And he tries to tell them, "No, you're not winning. You know, you're making yourself a loser. If you're going to go, you're gonna do time in prison. You're going to leave your kids without a father in their home. You are not winning in this situation. So stop. Take a breath."
Cathy Shafran: And it needs people like Trevonte and Roger to share those messages with kids.
Sarah Rigg: That lived experience is just key.
Cathy Shafran: So, Concentrate Media reporter Sarah Rigg and Trevonte Thomas with the Community Violence Intervention Team. I want to thank both of you for joining us here today on On The Ground Ypsi.
Sarah Rigg: Thanks for having us, Cathy.
Trevonte Thomas: I appreciate you for having me.
Cathy Shafran: Great. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is 89.1 WEMU FM, Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University. And online at WEMU.org.
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