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Cure Violence appears to bring down St. Louis’ still-high homicide numbers

As homicides continue to tick up in St. Louis, many officials say gun violence should be approached as a public health issue.
Tony Webster
Homicides dropped significantly in four out of five St. Louis neighborhoods in 2021 using the Cure Violence intervention program.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is crediting an intervention program known as Cure Violence for helping to reduce the city’s homicides by more than 25% in 2021.

“We all want to feel safe in our neighborhoods,” Jones said Thursday at a press conference trumpeting the program. “The Missouri Legislature prevents our city from making common-sense gun laws. So we have to look at other tools at our disposal to prevent violent crime.”

Despite the big drop, at least 195 people were still killed in the city, a number that Jones acknowledged is unacceptable.

“Cure Violence isn't a silver bullet. It was never built to be a silver bullet,” she said. “But it is one piece of a larger holistic strategy.”

The Chicago-based program trains people who live in areas with high crime rates to intervene in conflicts. The goal is to prevent disagreements from escalating to violent crime, and to provide social services such as job training to neighborhood residents.

Cure Violence staffers began operating in the Walnut Park, Wells-Goodfellow, Hamilton Heights and Dutchtown neighborhoods throughout the latter half of 2020, a year when 263 people were killed. Despite the pandemic, interrupters were able to intervene in more than 600 conflicts across the three operating areas. (Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights are counted as one operating area, though they are different neighborhoods.)

“Fifty-eight interruptions is really huge for us, for a small neighborhood,” said Mulugheta Teferi, chief of staff at the Urban League of St. Louis, which runs the Walnut Park site. “Fifty-eight people could have been dead, if they were not interrupted. That’s how we look at it.”

Overall, homicides were down 26% in the city from 2020 to 2021. In four of the five Cure Violence locations, homicides dropped at a rate higher than the overall decrease: 42% in Hamilton Heights, 70 percent in Wells-Goodfellow, 50% in Walnut Park East and 80% in Walnut Park West.

Dutchtown was the lone outlier — homicides there actually rose 50% over the same time period. But Mujaa Williams, who runs the neighborhood’s program, said the work is still worth it.

“We’re asking a fundamental question — are these neighborhoods worth saving?” he said. “And for the most part, the feedback we receive is that it is — they are worth saving.”

Jones will use federal coronavirus relief funding to expand violence interruption programs. The exact locations have not yet been decided.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.