Saturday, November 10, 2007

Operation Ceasefire Outreach Workers Graduate

State Attorney General Anne Milgram praised eight city volunteers for putting “faith over fear” in the battle against gun violence, and Criminal Justice Director Gregory A. Paw called them “up-standers – people who will stand up and say, ‘Enough.’”

The new community outreach workers are the last piece needed to launch “Operation Ceasefire” in Plainfield, a collaboration of law enforcement and city residents. They were honored in ceremonies Friday in the Plainfield Public Library.

“Our role is to stop the next shooting,” Milgram said, calling Plainfield as the “perfect type of city for us to work in” because of the high level of commitment she sees to curb gun violence.

“Everyone is engaged so sincerely and passionately with us,” Milgram said at the graduation ceremonies for the volunteers, who took 40 hours of training, including 10 hours of late-night street observation in Newark, Irvington and Plainfield.

Liberty Community Development Corp., affiliated with Mount Olive Baptist Church, is the lead agency working with law enforcement to launch Operation Ceasefire.

“We feel empowered.” executive director Angela Piggee of Liberty CDC said, noting the church has been in the West End for 137 years, but the community doesn’t like seeing “young people sitting there looking hopeless.”

Piggee said the West End has its own culture, but some of it needs to change.

Piggee and seven others received certificates to mark their graduation from the Operation Ceasefire training. The other graduates are Arlinder Harris, Ethel Wheeler, Eric Spann, George Brown, Amy Concepcion, Tawana Fields and Wanda Lyles. They will offer gun violence victims grief counseling and conflict resolution, among other forms of assistance.

“Most important, we are offering them options,” Piggee said.

In talking with individuals and families, the outreach workers will try to find out what they need to change their lives for the better, whether it is employment, health care or other help.

“We’re not afraid, because we know we will go out in groups,” she said. But she also said, "I ask those of you who believe in prayer to keep us in your prayers."

While homicide rates have gone down, the number of shootings has increased in Plainfield and many of the victims are young males caught up in gangs and gun violence, authorities have said. Operation Ceasefire began in Irvington and State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes praised Plainfield Friday for being the first city to come forward when state law enforcement officials decided to take the effort statewide. It is now operating in 14 cities, Fuentes said, noting no other state has taken it statewide.

--Bernice Paglia


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