In an effort to combat the increase of violence in their community, a group of friends in Charlottesville, Virginia, have created a network of residents who are called to talk people down from potentially fatal situations. 

The network of neighbors responds to calls from witnesses who use a designated hotline to alert the mediators, as opposed to calling law enforcement. Nicholas Feggans, one of the founding members of Sit Downs Before Shootouts, said the tool also allows a person to seek help before making a life-altering mistake. 

“You might have two guys in an altercation,” Feggans told Charlottesville Tomorrow. “Just pick up the phone. Say, ‘I don’t want to hurt this guy, can you come get him?’ A lot of situations happen spur-of-the-moment. But even if someone on the outskirts sees it, give us a call. Say, ‘Hey, I see something about to get out of hand. You guys might need to get someone over here and get this person out of here.’”

With Black communities across the country still grappling with cases of police brutality, the founders of the new tool said the mediators may be better suited to deescalate dangerous confrontations. 

“The way things are going now, you can see why people don’t call the police,” Feggans said. “But, if they can call someone they can trust who can relate to them, or who have been what they’ve been through, it will give us a higher chance of getting that call.” 

Co-founder Joshua Adriel Washington said the network can be effective because most people in Charlottesville’s Black community know each other.

“Between all of us, we probably know 99% of the people in [the Black community in] Charlottesville,” Washington said. “I feel that we’ve got to help in some way.”

The rest of the founders are Jamey Rush, Robert Gray, Martez Tolbert and Johnathan Barber, who all grew up in Charlottesville and serve as role models in their communities. According to Charlottesville Tomorrow, another group in the city has created a similar network known as the Buck Squad, named for a friend who was shot and killed in December.  

Serving as another alternative to calling the police, Buck Squad members have been passing out their personal phone numbers to anyone in Charlottesville’s Black community who would like to report dangerous encounters. 

“We did four conflict resolutions our first week, and that was the first week in months there were no shootings,” Buck Squad co-founder, Pertelle Gilmore said. 

Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney highlighted the city’s growing problem at a recent press conference, noting that cases of shots fired had nearly doubled in 2020. 

“What can this community do?” Brackney said. “How do we collectively contribute to solve the problem? Beyond traditional police responses — police presence, reactive responses, patrols, arrests of individuals involved in these instances, investigations or more cameras — little more has occurred.”

Members of Sit Downs Before Shootouts and the Buck Squad hope they have the answer.

“It’s getting out of control now,” Washington said. “The more something happens, the more it will continue to happen. I feel like, if you address the issue head-on from the beginning, you can kind of get a grip on it.”

According to a study from The Wall Street Journal, an increase in homicides was seen across the country last year. The report, which was published in August, found 3,612 reported homicides among the nation’s 50 largest cities, an increase of 24% compared to the previous year. 

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