Nonviolence by the numbers

Public Safety 
By PHILIP EIL  |  May 7, 2014

The Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence — the South Providence-based nonprofit which, in its dedication “to foster[ing] a community that addresses potentially violent situations with nonviolent solutions,” steers directly toward gun violence, gangs, and domestic disputes — saw nearly a million dollars in funding dwindle over the last few years. Long-running grants were phased out. Federal appropriations disappeared. The situation eventually forced the ISPN to lay off half of its staff in 2012, executive director Teny Gross says; remaining staffers took 20 percent pay cuts. At one point, the Institute’s annual budget was approximately half its previous $1.9 million. (They have since rebounded and, thanks in part to private donations, the budget is back to $1.6 million.)

Budget struggles were one of many topics discussed during our visit to the ISPN a week before its annual “Invest in Peace” fundraiser. Gross is a voracious reader who’s equally prone to refer to Thomas Hobbes or a study mapping the effects of neighborhood violence on the brains of Chicago elementary school students. He also a prodigious collector of numbers and statistics, a few of which we’ve reproduced here, along with his explanations. His comments have been edited for length.

50 We re-tooled ourselves around gang members and shooters, particularly young ones. A very high percentage is male. We created a list of about 50 [whom] we think are most likely to kill or die in the next 90 days and we try to focus [on them]. We don’t publish it. . . it’s our internal working document.

[Our] first goal is to keep you alive. The second is — below that, not equivalent — is that you don’t kill. The third stage is that you don’t get incarcerated or re-incarcerated. And then the fourth category of goals is what other organizations have, which is you partake in our programming [relating to GEDs, employment, nonviolence training, conflict mediation, etc.].

6 Drug users take on average six attempts to get out of that habit. Domestic violence relationships, nationally, take six attempts. So we say, ‘Why wouldn’t it take six attempts for a gang member to change their lifestyle?’ We will go through ups and downs with you, go through jail, [have you] come back to us.

1600  The police will say there’s about 1600 gang members in the city of Providence. That’s the number they use. They have a researcher who. . . collects their data. We are worried with those [lists and] labels. Sometimes people don’t get off them when they’ve actually matured, gotten a job, they’re married, they have children. But they’re still labeled as that. So it’s always tricky.

0 (in response to, “Can we ever get to zero murders, zero shootings, zero violent incidents?”)

Yes, I have to believe so.

What will it take? Let’s say if the Institute was endowed and I would really be the head scientist working with my team on the ground, as opposed to spending so much time trying to fundraise and cobble together [support]. We’re moving now into more predictive work. Who has a gun arrest? Who’s coming out of jail with a gun and gang affiliation? Domestic [incidents]: what are the signs? It’s pretty rare that someone goes off, ballistic.

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