By Evan Triantafilidis
When a man climbed up a tree earlier this month in the southeastern Queens neighborhood of Brookville and refused to come down, members of the NYPD and FDNY monitored the situation for nearly three days.
When the team from Love Ignites Freedom Through Education (LIFE), a frontline gun violence prevention and intervention team, showed up on the scene, the man agreed to come down from the tree just minutes later.
After an initial assessment of the situation was taken by the LIFE team, an agreement was made with Chief Ruben Beltran, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens South, to pull all officers from the scene.
“The police removed themselves at approximately 4:30 p.m.,” said A.U. Hogan, who serves as Chief of Streets for the group. “In seven minutes, the team was able to get him down.”
LIFE co-founder Erica Ford praised the partnership between the local precinct and her team of street-credible foot soldiers. It’s the holistic approaches of her staff, she says, that has made her mission of peacekeeping and combating violence successful for her neighborhood.
But it wasn’t always like this. State Senator Leroy Comrie said it took many years for LIFE and leadership at the 113th and 103rd precincts to get to the level of cooperation they currently have.
“It took brother Hogan and Erica storming into the precinct with volunteers on a regular basis to force the police to sit down and get to a level of understanding,” said Comrie. “We went through about four captains before we got a captain that started understanding the relationship.”
Local elected officials, including Comrie, Senator Chuck Schumer, Assembly members Adrienne Adams and Vivian Cook, and Councilman I. Daneek Miller took a tour on LIFE’s mobile trauma unit last week.
Schumer said he would push for $5 billion in funding to be included for community-based violence intervention programs in the Build Back Better agenda currently being pushed by the Biden Administration.
Currently, LIFE operates on private donations.
“The beauty of the community-based violence intervention programs is it’s a grassroots program,” said Schumer. “They work in concert with the local precinct, but it is an approach that is new and it gives you a lot of hope that not only can you reduce violence, but you can take people’s lives who thought they had no future, no hope, and they can have a positive future.”
Schumer noted that recidivism steeply declines in communities that have programs like LIFE.
“Our job is not to tell them how to do it, but to let them do it and give them the resources to do it,” he said.
Kheperah Kearse, LIFE’s Chief of Wellness, said we should approach violence as a public health issue.
“It’s not enough to take a weapon out of a child’s hand if you don’t shift what is in their mind and heart,” she said.
Kearse envisions permanent community wellness centers where therapeutic health resources are be offered to residents.
“There should be more wellness centers than liquor stores,” said Kearse.