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During a virtual press conference from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on Tuesday morning, county and city leaders introduced the site supervisor for a new violence-interruption program, Alternatives to Violence, set to launch in the Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street corridors this month.
Belton Platt, a Charlotte drug-kingpin-turned-community-advocate, will head up the program, aiming to curb violence in the northwest Charlotte corridors and set a model to potentially be used citywide.
Platt and his team of two violence interrupters and two community outreach workers, with a third violence-interrupter spot to be filled by someone in the Historic West End community after the work begins, will work along the corridors five days a week. They’ll build relationships with residents and attempt to mediate and prevent situations that could lead to homicides and other violent crimes.
“Our team, they are going to work hard, willing to risk their lives, 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning, out there trying to interrupt gun violence and homicides in the city of Charlotte, but it’s going to take all of Charlotte to make a difference,” Platt said on Tuesday morning. “It’s going to take the leaders coming together. It’s going to take not just those on Beatties Ford Road … it’s going to take everybody coming together to make a difference in this city and make sure this initiative that we’re launching today can be successful. We cannot do it alone. We need your help.”
The Alternatives to Violence program is one of multiple pilots approved by Charlotte City Council in 2020, which saw the highest number of homicides in Charlotte (120) since 1993. When adjusted for city growth, the per-capita murder rate last year was only around half that of 1993, but it’s safe to say nobody in the city is happy with the totals regardless.
As last year came to a close, the city launched multiple efforts to curb gun violence in Charlotte, including investing $1 million in local anti-violence nonprofits through a new SAFE Charlotte plan and inviting the Chicago-based violence-interruption program Cure Violence Global to the city to assess how it might work with people on the ground to put a stop to the killing.
Alternatives to Violence (ATV) is the result of that assessment. Funded with a $500,000 investment from the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, national nonprofit Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., worked with Cure Violence consultants and local community leaders to develop and implement a program specific to Charlotte.
“This is an initiative that has been implemented around the world, including places that I dare say have a much deeper violence problem than here: El Salvador, Trinidad, Colombia, the Middle East, and it has been successful in that context,” said Federico Rios, assistant director of the city’s Office of Equity, Mobility and Immigrant Integration and chair of the Safe Communities’ Community Input Group.
“Every place it has gone it has adapted to the specific needs of the community it is in,” he continued. “We believe that when applied to Charlotte, this will be a successful initiative. It has proven so in every community it’s been placed in.”
That’s a hard claim to verify, though Cure Violence Global points to independent studies that show significant reductions in cities where they operate, including Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia.
A 2017 report from John Jay College evaluating the effects of Cure Violence programs in New York City, where they were first implemented in 2010, found that neighborhoods operating Cure Violence programs showed steeper declines in acts of gun violence and the expression of pro-violence social norms compared with similar neighborhoods not operating Cure Violence programs.
Violence-interruption programs and Belton Platt’s calling
A large part of the Cure Violence model includes bringing on locally based community advocates with lived experience around crime and gun violence. As documented in local journalist Pam Kelley’s 2018 book Money Rock: A Family’s Story of Cocaine, Race and Ambition in the New South, Platt fits that precisely.
His tale is a harrowing and tragic one. After having spent a large chunk of the 1980s operating as one of Charlotte’s largest cocaine kingpins, Platt served more than 20 years in prison. During that time, he lost three sons to gun violence, two having been murdered and one taking his own life.
He spoke on Tuesday about witnessing his father try to kill his mother in front of him at just 5 years old, and how it was hard for anyone to understand the way that traumatized him, leading him toward the lifestyle he would later pursue.
“No one understood the trauma that I experienced that day,” Platt said. “The hurt, the pain that I experienced that day. Growing up and going to school, they didn’t understand that teenager that was angry and mad, that was hardened, that was hurt, that was confused, because I didn’t have a program like the Alternatives to Violence program.
“My sons, three of them died while I was in prison, there was no program [for them],” he continued. “There was no Cure Violence Global or Youth Advocate Program, Inc., here in the city of Charlotte … I would call home from prison and ask my mother, ‘Ma, get my boys into counseling, get them a mentor, get’ em in a program,’ and all three of them died. That’s why I say I have blood in this.”
Platt’s selection garnered praise from other community activists, as well, including Robert Dawkins of SAFE Coalition, who has been advocating for a strong violence-interruption program for four years.
On Tuesday morning, Dawkins tweeted, “We approve and are genuinely optimistic that the individuals selected by [the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County] to lead the violence interruption program on Beatties Ford will make a difference in the corridor and not only curb violence but help build strong neighborhoods without increased policing.”
Other members of the ATV team include Donnell Gardner, president of the anti-violence group Team Trublue; Majid Alim-Obama, a formerly incarcerated man inspired to get involved with violence-prevention work by the Juneteenth shootings on Beatties Ford Road in 2020; Jamal Davis, a formerly incarcerated man who heard about ATV from his pastor, Platt, who founded Rock Ministries; and radio/podcast host BJ Murphy, who has long been involved with the Charlotte Peacekeepers, Fruit of Islam, and other Beatties Ford Corridor community organizations.
Platt and his team have gone through multiple violence-interruption trainings in recent weeks, and will begin this week canvassing the communities where they will be working for the next year. They will speak to residents in the neighborhoods of Historic West End — neighborhoods like Washington Heights, Lincoln Heights and University Park — while handing out brochures introducing themselves and providing phone numbers to reach members of the team if needed.
According to Platt, the ATV team will focus first on preventing violence, but also offer resources for community members in need, including connecting folks with job opportunities; educational resources; mental-health and drug-treatment services; and basic needs.
When asked if the prospect of working in locations known as crime hot-spots on the West End late at night makes him nervous, Platt quickly denied that he was anything but excited to get started.
“Absolutely not. I’m not nervous,” he said. “Many women, men, families have lost children. If I feared dying I wouldn’t be here. I believe it’s a call on my life. I believe everything that I’ve gone through brought me to this point, so I’m ready, I’m excited — my team, they’re ready and excited. I believe they’ve been trained properly and I believe faith, hope and love will make the difference.”
A block party to begin the work
City leaders will celebrate the official launch of ATV with a block party they’re calling QC Fest, scheduled for Aug. 14 from noon to 6 p.m. at Northwest School of the Arts on Beatties Ford Road.
Malcolm Graham, Charlotte City Council rep for District 2 where the Historic West End is located, announced a slew of live music performances scheduled for QC Fest, including BET Award-winning R&B group Day26, and Grammy Award-nominated singer and rapper J. Holiday. Graham joked that he might perform as Mally Mal if the price from the city manager’s office is right.
On a more serious note, Graham praised the selection of Platt on Tuesday, calling him “ideally suited” for the position. He pointed out how studies have shown that 44% of people treated for injuries resulting from violent crimes return to the hospital for similar injuries within five years, and 20% of people treated in the hospital for those injuries become homicide victims.
Graham asked that members of the community come out to QC Fest on Aug. 14 to meet Platt and his team, though many will have already been familiar by then.
“This is what we ask from neighborhood leaders up and down the corridor: We want you to be a part of the change in this community, not victims of it,” Graham said. “We want eyes on the corridor looking out for our seniors, we want eyes on the corridor helping our youth, we want eyes on the corridor supporting our small businesses up and down Beatties Ford Road.”
City Council District 1 rep Larken Egelston, who chaired the Safe Communities Committee that helped bring ATV to fruition, emphasized that the hiring process for site supervisor and every member of the team was a competitive one.
Egleston said the city prioritized finding someone the community could trust, and someone who can build rapport with folks at risk of taking the wrong path.
“We need people who can interrupt violence, who can cool down situations when they get too hot, who can change the social norms in a part of our city that has experienced far too much violence,” Egleston said. “We need candidates who are open to learning, building relationships, making sure that they’re in a position to make a difference when we need them to prevent the violence that we’ve seen occurring day after day in our community.”
As for Platt, he’s just rearing to get started in his new job, and hopes he can help people experience the change that he did, without having to do two decades in prison before it happens.
“I believe people can change,” he said Tuesday. “One of the core principles of Cure Violence is that they believe that people can change. One of the principles of Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., is they don’t believe in turning down anybody. My team and I, we are men up here that have changed our lives for the better. Each one of them know that these positions that we have, we are putting our lives at stake, but it’s worth it if we can stop one murder, if we can stop one kid from going the wrong way. We believe in this program.”