Walking the streets of Ward 8’s Washington Highlands community, you will likely encounter Frederick Mercer, a Cure the Streets Violence Interrupter. Frederick is funny, approachable, and straightforward – qualities which are key to be a successful Violence Interrupter who builds relationships, resolves conflicts in the community, and prevents retaliation if violence does occur.
“We don’t have bullet proof vests. We don’t use weapons. We use communication,” says Frederick. Communication is one of the primary tools that violence interrupters use in their work. They meet and speak with people in their neighborhood to get to know them and build trust. They also use communication to intervene and help resolve conflicts without violence.
Often, Frederick says he crosses paths with people who don’t have a plan for their day, so they stop and talk to him about what’s going on in their life. “People feed off your energy if they see you doing good things in your life,” he says. These interactions present an opportunity to be both a listening ear and a source of positivity for someone who needs it. Violence interrupters have an intimate understanding of what it’s like to be or interact with individuals at risk of being involved in potentially violent situations. “Who better to reach out to these guys than people who have been through it,” he says.
Frederick believes that one of the most powerful tools for helping people stay out of trouble is gainful employment. “If you’ve got a job, you have to prepare for the next day – that’s less time on the streets. When you’re at work, you’re not dead. There’s a different look in your eye.” Frederick says that employment helped him re-enter society after incarceration and that Cure the Streets has helped him move on from the trauma of his past.
During the COVID-19 public health crisis, he says he’s been working to help community members find construction work, but due to increased unemployment, it’s been more challenging to connect people to jobs. That hasn’t stopped Frederick from trying to create job opportunities for others. He says he’s always trying to think creatively about ways people can help with new problems that have arisen because of the pandemic. For example, he wants to explore partnerships that would allow community members seeking employment to help sanitize local schools before they re-open.
Whether surveying the neighborhood, encouraging his peers, or connecting people with jobs, Frederick is making a difference every day.
OAG’s Cure the Streets uses a data-driven, public-health approach to treat violence as a disease that can be interrupted, treated, and stopped from spreading. CTS is working in six sites with some of the highest rates of gun violence in Wards 5, 7 and 8.