DETROIT, Mich. — Phil Sample’s life today is much different than it once was. He used to hustle on the streets of Detroit. Now, he's part of Ceasefire Detroit, a team of clergy members, community advocates, and former gang members who reach out to those who are at risk of gun violence.
"If you ride through my neighborhood, it's a mess and I was there— part of that mess and I survived. So the question is why, you know, why didn't I die with my homeboy," Sample said.
Bishop Daryl Harris is the faith-based coordinator of Ceasefire. He's helping hook young people up with resources to get them to break away from gun violence.
"We have to get persons involved in the work who are tried and true here to stay that people can know there is hope, and there is a way out of this. It may take us a while to figure it out, but there's a way out," he said.
Detroit police identify people on the street who are crime adjacent. They could be victims of a shooting or in a gang. Once they are identified, Ceasefire is called. The outreach team then meets the people where they're at, making it clear they are different from law enforcement. The people are given a choice: get help or risk getting arrested down the road.
"We're the ones that come in and say, 'Hey, you know, do you need another place to stay right now? Do you need food services right now? Do you need clothing right now? Do you need to get your family out of the city right now,'" said Harris.
Last year, the Gun Violence Archive recorded more than 20,000 gun deaths nationwide, the most since they’ve been keeping track. In Detroit, they saw a 27% increase in homicides and 44% increase in non-fatal shootings.
"The foundation of all the work we do is community. We are the community that we serve," said Chief James White of the Detroit Police Department.
He says he realizes that law enforcement can’t reverse the numbers alone. Along with several initiatives, like paying young people $15 per hour to get their GED, hiring officers from the community, and a five-point initiative to bring down crime, he says working with community partners like Ceasefire has helped them lower non-fatal shootings this year by 21% and homicides by 15%.
"Some people, when they don't have the economic means may choose to commit crime to take care of their families. So you've got to disrupt the pipeline to prison with a lot of innovative ideas and thinking through what drives crime, and I think Ceasefire is probably one of the most effective ways to do that," White said.
Distinguishing themselves from police is crucial to gaining the trust of the people they try to help, however, the symbiotic partnership between the two organizations is extremely important to reach the right people.
"To be frank, I'm not from a place where we were all buddy-buddy with the police or whatnot, but I'm working with anybody that's trying to save these babies," said Sample.
The Ceasefire initiative is in other cities like Boston, New York and Chicago. People, both nationally and internationally, have gotten in touch with the team in Detroit to learn from them.
"The public is the most important piece to public safety, so what would it be like if we could pull everyone together and say, 'This is what we need to do, this is what needs to happen in order for all of us, the public, to actually feel safe,'" said Harris.
From mentoring to helping them find a job, Ceasefire believes that every community needs to help stop the hurting in America.
"The streets need to activate 'cause it's a community thing," said Sample.