Trenton community crisis response team aims to prevent violence, save lives

A community crisis response team in Trenton aims to defuse violence and help individuals struggling with mental health issues

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Police tape up at a crime scene

File - Police crime-scene tape keeps people away from the brick Roebling Wire Works building, background, in Trenton, N.J., hours after a shooting broke out there at an all-night art festival early Sunday, June 17, 2018, sending people stampeding from the scene and leaving one suspect dead and 20 people injured. (AP Photo/Mike Catalini)

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A community group in Trenton is working to break the cycle of violence before it spirals out of control.

The Trenton Restorative Street Team is part of Salvation and Social Justice, a non-partisan, Black, faith-based public policy organization co-founded by the Reverend Dr. Charles Franklin Boyer, pastor of Greater Mount Zion A.M.E. Church.

The team is composed of people the criminal justice system has directly impacted, and they have been doing this work for two years. They respond to nonviolent, mental health, substance use situations and offer an alternative to a police response, which “often escalates into some level or use of force, and many times deadly,” Boyer said.

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“Black people are three times more likely to be beaten, pepper-sprayed, punched, kicked, put in chokeholds, tased, shot and killed by police than white folks,” Boyer said.

Rev. Antonio Bellamy of the Transformation Church in Trenton is the group’s coordinator. He said the team runs seven different programs that are aimed at restoring justice and promoting peace on the streets and in schools.

“We want to see the people who are from Trenton and for Trenton having the resources they need (to move) to a better Trenton,” he said. “We won’t stop until every crack, every crevice and every corner of our city is changed in a way that brings God, glory and brings hope to our city.”

He said the group also conducts conversations at barbershops and beauty salons. They conduct writing and journaling workshops where participants have the opportunity to process their trauma.

“We know that one of the restorative ways is if I process my pain on a page I’m less likely to process my pain on a person,” Boyer said.

Boyer said a major focus of the team is to stop gun violence. They are dispatched to shooting scenes, and team members work with victims and victims’ families.

Bellamy said his team asks hard questions such as: “Why are young men and women carrying guns in our community, why is the dropout rate what it is in our community? And the why gives you more compassion,” he said.“We must listen to people. Honoring people’s humanity is really important.”

The group’s initiatives caught the attention of state lawmakers, prompting them to support similar programs in other parts of the state. Last month, New Jersey adopted a new law called the Seabrooks-Washington Community Led Crisis Act.

The law is named for Najee Seabrooks of Paterson and Andrew Washington of Jersey City, two Black men who were struggling with mental health crises when they were killed by police last year.

The law, sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Spearman, allocates $12 million to create a formal Community Crisis Response Team pilot program in Camden, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex and Passaic counties.

“The whole focus is violence reduction. Street teams save lives. That’s the long and the short of it,” Spearman said.

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