Paterson groups get grants to battle gun violence

Paterson had 10 shootings January through April, but 50 since May. Police in Paterson have confiscated almost as many guns this year as they did in all of 2019

“We are getting guns off of our streets. In fact, we are on pace to remove a record number of guns in Paterson,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

But Sayegh knows it takes more than that to turn the tide, so the city and police rely on the collaboration with anti-violence partners such as Operation CeaseFire, StreetKeepers and Men Stand Up. The groups volunteer to prevent violence and to try to interrupt it based on lived experiences on Paterson’s rough streets.

“We try to come in between them, we’re the mediators, and we try to come in between them and we try to solve the problem, the issue, before it becomes a major issue with gunfire,” said Odell Lashley, outreach director for Operation Ceasefire.

“I’ll tell a young man, ‘You know, you realize the greatness in you. Do you know who you are?’ Because if they know who they are they aren’t going to put up a gun. So what I do is I challenge everyone, especially the young and the old, the ones that are killing people, to be great. You want an Instagram challenge, you want a Facebook challenge, my challenge to them is to be great,” said Shadu Allah, a member of Paterson StreetKeepers.

“Combating gun violence isn’t just about policing all of your problems away. We can only arrest so many people but it starts at the street level,” Sayegh said.

Last year, the mayor met the gun violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety and learned it was offering grants to community-based organizations committed to the same goal. The group has donated $20,000 to both Operation CeaseFire and StreetKeepers.

“We started a campaign, and our campaign is to make violence rest in peace,” said Casey Melvin, cofounder of StreetKeepers.

The anti-gun violence advocates say they’ll use the grants for education campaigns and more.

Paterson has another major issue that looms large in the battle to end gun violence.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the drug problem in the city of Paterson. Drugs and guns are first cousins. And then again, we have these gangs that are intimidating our young people to join these gangs and commit violence,” said Rev. Allan Boyer, a pastor at Bethel AME Church. “We have to attack these problems on both fronts.”

The mayor says he needs to stop the gun traffickers in their tracks because no one makes guns in the city, at least not anymore. Colt made the first commercial gun with a revolving cylinder with multiple chambers in Paterson.

“Together we will get through this through education, through prevention, through violence interruption, through crisis intervention, through mental health. There are so many different components of this violence epidemic, or pandemic, we are facing. We are working together here in the city of Paterson, and that should be the message. We will work until there is not one gun illegal on our streets,” said Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale.