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901 Block Squad out to blunt youth violence

  • Written by Tony Jones

The goal is to give life to an accountable personification of the street law that says "game recognizes game."

The official announcement was set for Thursday (Oct. 18). Mayor AC Wharton Jr.'s Innovation Team scheduled a press conference to introduce the members of a new street team that will go to work on helping to cut the youth violence rate.

Called the 901 B.L.O.C. (Better Lives, Opportunities and Communities) Squad, the five-member team is comprised of men who once were caught up in street life but have turned their lives around and have a consistent background of community service.

Delvin LaneChosen from a field of more than 62 candidates, the first five 901 B.L.O.C. Squad members will be: Delvin Lane, Community Violence Prevention Supervisor; Trevon Tony and Lonnie Gauldin, Violence Intervention Specialists; and Andrew Collins and Link Fisher, Street Outreach.

"Our goal is to get the kids to want to bring unity to the community and make them understand that they are the solution they are searching for," said Lane.

The 901 B.L.O.C. Squad will not be trying to help law enforcement catch bad kids, and will not be identifying alleged perpetrators or turning them in. All are to complete a 48-hour training process in law enforcement techniques before the team is fully activated.

Created by the Innovation Team's Youth Gun Violence Reduction Initiative – after a study of models in cities such as Baltimore and Los Angeles – the 901 B.L.O.C. Squad will not be city employees. They will be contractors hired under the jurisdiction of the Urban Youth Initiative, working from a $250,000, two-year grant to the Innovation Team from Wells Fargo.

If 901 B.L.O.C. Squad Supervisor Lane is an indicator of the type of commitment the new team has, what's in it for them is the last thing on their minds.

Now the offensive coordinator for Booker T. Washington High School's football team, Lane was profiled in the Sept. 28, 2006 of the Tri State Defender. The story chronicled how Lane turned his life around from being a crack dealer earning "$3,000 to $5,000" a week from three crack houses he owned at the time. He transitioned to working as the Middle School Coordinator for Streets Ministries, where he spent 12 years overcoming the lost opportunities the streets stole from him, including scholarships to the University of Wyoming and UT Martin.

Fast forward to now and Lane finds himself a newly-appointed civic warrior on the front lines to save as many of the city's youth as possible from his earlier path.

"Because the team members' ties are known in their communities, we will be able to bring them the truth," said Lane. "When something happens, we are going to try to be getting to the scene to calm the situation down and to be like mediators to teach them that retaliation is only going to continue to hurt our communities."

Lane's story will make anyone sit up and listen.

"I was sitting on the side of my bed at one of my crack houses and everything just flashed back on me and made me realize I was running to a dead end," said Lane in an interview Wednesday with The New Tri-State Defender.

"I had seen my brother get a life sentence. I saw one of my friends get a jail sentence of life, plus. I had a fifteen year old die in my arms from gunshot wounds to the chest. I knew that if I kept living this lifestyle I would either end up dead or in prison.

"I try to make them understand by giving them an ultimatum: would you rather work and build a career where you can go and enjoy a nice vacation or spend your life with the cops always after you, your friends robbing you, and nothing to do but sit in jail?"

The plan starts in Frayser and South Memphis, where it generally is agreed that the concept is badly needed

When a conflict erupts, 901 B.L.O.C. Squad's violence intervention specialists, Gauldin and Tony go to a scene, hoping to convince the youth that retaliation could prove to be a terrible mistake, only escalating a process that will kill or trap them one day. The squad will also be assigned to find faith-based organizations to partner with to arrange for some type of healing process for communities disrupted by gun tragedies.

Street outreach leaders Collins and Fisher will serve like parole officers, staying in contact with at-risk youths to try to keep them on a positive track in their educational and personal lives.

"That is one advantage the computer world will be bringing to the table," said Lane. "We're going to be online and facebooking all of the time. What these kids need is someone to listen to them before they reach the edge, someone that knows where they are coming from.

"We're going to be there to try to lead them to the other side"


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