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Rochester community leaders turn to Peacemakers for help combatting violence

Posted at 10:57 PM, Jul 26, 2022

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — At the end of June, those in Rochester brought food to Buffalo after the Tops mass shooting. That's when Clay Harris, the founder and president of Uniting and Healing through Hope Monroe County, noticed the Buffalo Peacemakers and the work they do.

"Then from there, Pastor Giles and I started talking about seeing what we can do to potentially bring the Peacemakers to Rochester," Harris said.

Harris said the violence interruption work the Peacemakers do is extremely needed just an hour away.

"We haven't seen this much violence ever," Harris said, "We broke a record. We shattered a record last year. We had 81 murders. Over 400 shootings. Just think if people were on target."

Harris said there are different community and municipality organizations in Rochester working to combat violence, but there's something different about what the Peacemakers do.

"Some of the trench work, some of the preventative measures that you guys do in Buffalo, we can use some of those to be able to implement here in Rochester," Harris said.

Pastor James Giles, the coordinator of the Buffalo Peacemakers, said he plans to help Harris start an organization like the Peacemakers in Rochester the same way he and several others started the anti-violence group in Buffalo. He said they have to begin with church leaders.

"It's about really connecting with those faith leaders and say we need to have a ground force. Individuals that are on the street," Giles said.

Giles said what is most important for those involved is to simply show up. He said being present and recognizable throughout the city is what deters violence.

"It makes a big difference, because when they see me they know I don't tolerate that nonsense. They'll be like 'here comes Miss Mary,' and I know they're going to straighten up," Mary Martin, who has been a Peacemaker for six years, said.

"And I don't have to physically disarm them, just my words. Hey man, put that gun down. You shoot that man and you go to jail, you're never going to get out. Then you won't ever get sleep. Put the gun down. As a matter of fact, give me the gun," Kenneth Stephens, who has been a Buffalo Peacemaker for seven years, said.

Pastor Giles said it's also crucial to develop branding, like the yellow shirts the Peacemakers wear.

"We've been doing this for a while. This shirt? People recognize this shirt," Stephens said, "So, just our mere presence is the deterrence to nonsense."

Peacemakers will be traveling to Rochester to help with the first Central and Western New York joint anti-violence event on August 21. The event is called 'Stop the Violence Great Awakening.' It'll run from 3:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Frontier Field in Rochester.

"Whatever we can do to try to implement and to mimic and to network and collaborate, we're going to do that because lives are at stake," Harris said.

Pastor Giles said funding is necessary to make the program in Rochester sustainable. But, he said, that money will likely come after the group is established on a volunteer basis.