Ambitious new program seeks to stop violence in Durham before it starts

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Finding a solution to stop violence is the goal of an ambitious new program in Durham that the victims of violent crime say can’t happen soon enough.

Violence is no stranger to Durham and to one mother who lost a son to violence, the program interests her because she wants to try and prevent others from going through what she went through more than 10 years ago.

Rayburn Simms was shot to death in 2005 at Leon and Broad streets – and the murder has never been solved. It was a murder that also nearly destroyed his mom.

“It did something to my head after he got murdered. I died right along with him. I stopped going out to see my friends…I wouldn’t deal with nobody unless they were family. I stopped going places, period,” said Joslin Simms, Rayburn’s mother.

Simms came to a community meeting on Thursday to hear about a program that tries to stop violence before it begins.

“It takes a public health approach at looking at violence and treats it like an infectious disease,” said Eric Ireland, deputy public health director for Durham County.

That disease of violence tears at Simms’ heart every time she hears of another murder in Durham.

“Too many of our children are being killed. Too many of our children are dying,” she said.

County commissioners budgeted $434,000 to get the Cure Violence program started in Durham where they believe they can break the cycle of violence by interrupting it.

“Violence is a learned behavior and it’s spread like a disease,” Ireland said.

For Simms, finding a way to treat the disease will help cure her.

“What we’re here for is to step up – to help our community and each other. By me doing this I’m healing myself,” she said.

Priscilla Smith lives in a neighborhood near North Carolina Central University and said the violence in her neighborhood is “very bad.”

“Every other weekend there’s a shooting in my neighborhood,” she said.

Smith said she has a way to keep her kids safe.

“I have three teenagers who are young men and I don’t want anything to happen to them, so I keep them in the house.”

Smith was also at the Cure Violence meeting on Thursday. The program is meant to keep violence out of her neighborhood, and others in Durham, before it happens by using people on the streets to reach those on the streets.

Those in the program “have the ability to find out information about violent acts and to intercede,” Ireland said.

Program organizers say it works because of who they choose as their violence interrupters.

“They come from the community and they have the respect of the community,” according to Ireland.

For moms like Priscilla Smith, that outreach is key.

“If we can get to those young people before they get to that stage and get them something positive to do beforehand, I believe a lot of the violence would stop,” she said.

The Cure Violence program has been used in New York, Chicago and New Orleans, as well as Cape Town, South Africa and London, England. Durham hopes to have its version of the program ready by late October or early November.

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