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Shots Fired: How Violence Intervention groups are part of the solution

Two groups of boys around the ages of 13 converged on the Watergate Food Mart early one December afternoon. Situated between Norfolk’s Calvert Square and Young Terrace neighborhoods, the store had become known among residents as a hotspot for gun violence.

As the two groups approached, members of a violence intervention team run by the nonprofit Teens with a Purpose were watching.


At least one of the boys was carrying a handgun with a laser sight. Marvin Muhammad, who leads the after school Safe Passage team for Teens with a Purpose, said the mentors greeted the groups and defused the tension. When the teens saw the Safe Passage leaders, wearing recognizable reflective vests, they stutter-stepped.


At least one of the boys was carrying a handgun with a laser sight. Marvin Muhammad, who leads the after school Safe Passage team for Teens with a Purpose, said the mentors greeted the groups and defused the tension. When the teens saw the Safe Passage leaders, wearing recognizable reflective vests, they stutter-stepped.


“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” one boy told another.


The groups dispersed, and no violence was reported in the area that day. The intervention was described by Muhammad and documented in a report by the group, which concluded the leaders’ presence and greeting were key to the nonviolent outcome. The intervention is one of 15 the team has documented since October as part of routine walks through the neighborhood.


Teens with a Purpose is one of dozens of grassroots groups in Hampton Roads that work to prevent gun violence in the community, particularly among young people. Rather than focusing on locking people up as a deterrent, they work on addressing the root causes of gun violence —  including poverty, access to guns, low education, poor mental health, and past exposure to violence — and steering young people on a more positive direction before it is too late.






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