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Arrests Expose Rift Between N.Y.P.D. and ‘Violence Interrupters’

For years, New York City has employed a two-pronged approach to reducing gun violence, relying on the police and on the publicly funded conflict mediators known as violence interrupters, who try to defuse disputes before they escalate, including into gunfire.

But the February arrests of two interrupters has caused simmering tensions with the police to boil over and threatens to undermine a key part of Mayor Eric Adams’s approach to curbing shootings and murders.

The two sides share a fundamental goal, despite their strikingly different methods. Where officers have the power to arrest, interrupters, often former gang members who in some cases have served prison time, rely on street credibility to steer people from crime.

Over the past year, though, interrupters say officers have cursed at them; shoved them out of the way when they tried to break up fights; and arrested them for minor offenses. Then, on Feb. 9, two members of Save Our Streets, a longtime anti-violence group in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section, said officers had handcuffed them after they tried to calm a man being detained for drug possession.

At the time, the two, Mark Johnson and his supervisor, Dequann Stanley, were wearing clothing that identified them as outreach workers. Still, a swarm of officers dragged them to the ground, according to video of the arrests reviewed by The Times, with some punching and kicking Mr. Stanley.

“I just felt so helpless,” he said in an interview.

transcript

In the video, Mr. Johnson can be heard saying, “Calm down,” to the young man who was detained by the police.

“It’s all right. Calm down. Calm down.” “That’s it. Calm down, man.” “Calm down. Y’all running for nothing. Calm down.”

In the video, Mr. Johnson can be heard saying, “Calm down,” to the young man who was detained by the police.

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