Young ‘peace builders’ aim to de-escalate violence

Photo courtesy of EMERGE Community Peace Builders are beginning to carry out de-escalation and relationship-building efforts in North Minneapolis

Violent crime during the summer season can fuel narratives by the public and the media about safety in urban settings. But in Minnesota’s largest city, an emerging effort aims to show that some youth want to firmly establish peace through communication.

Like many other places, Minneapolis has seen increases in violent crime in the past couple of years. On the North Side, a group called Nonviolent Peaceforce is scaling up its Community Peace Builders program.

Will Wallace, a local mentor for the initiative, said a handful of young adults are being trained in risk-assessment and de-escalation.

“I just think your tongue is your worst enemy,” said Wallace. “They got this thing where they say, ‘Oh, this summer is going to be hot, there’s gonna be a lot of killing.’ Well, we need to erase that.”

The training emphasizes terms such as “listen” and “affirm.” Peace Builders who are recruited are young adults who have overcome past issues tied to conflict in the streets. Beyond easing tension among peers, they also provide unarmed security at local events.

Elijah O’Neal, one of the local Peace Builders, said he hopes to stifle narratives that area residents are only capable of violence. He said he wants his peers to know they can overcome stereotypes and think about the bigger picture.

“We’re not used to talking,” said O’Neal. “All we’re used to doing is yelling and screaming and trying to get somebody to hear us. But I’m trying to get them to understand that we could talk it out without getting so violent.”

Fellow Peace Builder Markess Wilkins said one challenge is overcoming skepticism among his acquaintances. But he said he remains undeterred in convincing everyone about the path he has chosen, hoping others follow suit.

“It kind of drains me a little bit,” said Wilkins. “But at the end of the day, I know the work I’m doing. So, I don’t ever let the putdowns get to me.”

These Peace Builders began to hone their mentorship skills through the local organization EMERGE. The training offered by Nonviolent Peaceforce has been used in conflict zones around the world.

Mike Moen is a writer for the Minnesota News Connection, a bureau of the Public News Service.