Guns Down, Lives Up

Jason Barclay (right) and other violence interrupters for the Stand Up to Violence Program

In December 2015, Jason Barclay, a former gang member from the Bronx, saved a life and in turn saved himself. The 34-year-old was able to protect a kid, who was caught in a massive drug raid conducted by the police, from being arrested.

The police arrested over 14 people in the drug bust. “I was able to stop him from being arrested because he was so young,” said Barclay. “I just wanted to get him off the streets.” Barclay said he was able to convince him to quit using drugs and found him a job at the Pizza Hut on White Plains Road.

“He has worked there ever since and never gotten in trouble,” said Barclay. “I really feel like I saved a life.”

Barclay now works as a violence interrupter for the Jacobi Hospital’s Stand Up to Violence initiative. The program, jointly funded by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services and Senator Jeff Klein, addresses street and gun violence within the 43rd, 47th and 49th precincts in New York City.

The Program Director, Erika Mendelsohn, gathers information from people who are admitted to the Jacobi Hospital as a result of violent activities and then sends violence interrupters to the high risk areas within the three precincts to work with individuals who may be prone to further violence.

The interrupters, also called credible messengers try to mediate disputes and conduct counselling sessions with troubled individuals said Mendelsohn. The information obtained is not shared with any law enforcement agency unless absolutely necessary.

Barclay is currently trying to mediate a dispute between two rival gangs in Edenwald and is counselling 15 high-risk individuals. “They have my number and can call me anytime to talk. I am trying to help them with their resumes so they can get jobs,” he said.

Barclay claims that the program which was launched two years ago has successfully kept over 200 high-risk individuals off the streets. Mendelsohn, who corroborated the number, said she is very proud of their achievement.

According to the NYPD crime statistics, gun violence has reduced by 46 percent within the three precincts in the last two years. Shooting incidences are down 18 percent since the previous year. “In just two short years, this program has made a significant impact on guns and gang violence,” said Senator Jeff Klein. “It has reduced the incidence of shootings in targeted areas by approximately 40 percent.”

Apart from mediation and counselling, a large part of Barclay’s job involves community outreach and creating awareness about gun violence which has significantly contributed towards the reduction in crime, claims Barclay.

Barclay works with Pastor Jay Goodin, the Director of Community Outreach for the program to organize rallies and conduct events which would bring the entire community together and enable the high-risk individuals to mingle with the residents of the neighborhood.

On a recent Thursday, over 200 members of the community turned up to celebrate the program’s second anniversary in a peace march from Pelham Parkway houses to 229th Street. Barclay, ecstatic at the enthusiastic turnout, said that an event like this got him on the radar and gave him a new chance at life.

“I participated in the program’s basketball game against the 47th Precinct,” said Barclay. “Erika noticed that I knew everybody in the area, including the police and she asked if I needed a job and wanted to help the community. It was my calling.”

Barclay went from hanging out on street corners, doing drugs, riding his dirt bike and being chased by the police to really making a difference in the community. “The younger kids really look up to Jason,” said Mendelsohn. “He mentors them and gets them to open up about their lives.”

“I just want to help the kids,” said Barclay. “I want them to know, whatever happens, violence is not the answer.”

Like what you read? Give Shibani Gokhale a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.