The new CeaseFire Philadelphia bus doesn’t exactly blend in.
The brightly painted Winnebago has the group’s message boiled down to its simplest form in block letters on the side: “Stop. Shooting. People.”
“It’s amazing how powerful the word is,” said Robert Harris, 38, an outreach worker with CeaseFire, which sends its orange-clad members to the locations of shootings to defuse emotions before retaliatory fire break out.
“We talk to them, we cool them down. We say, ‘If you kill him, you die too. Because when you go to jail – you’re dead,'” Harris said. “By the time we’re done, they don’t wanna kill him. It’s an amazing thing.”
The Winnebago, which CeaseFire members used to attend a vigil in Kensington on Wednesday night, makes the mission more visible, members said.
“This allows us to go out into the neighborhoods,” said program manager Robert Wagner, 47. “It also allows us to bring people back into the bus, if they don’t feel comfortable with people seeing us talking to them.”
In violence-prone Philly, CeaseFire has been involved in seven to 10 mediations a month this year, Wagner said.
The city of brotherly love has seen 228 murders this year, a 36 percent drop from 2007. Last year, 247 people were murdered in Philadelphia, the lowest since 1967, down from 332 killings in 2012.
Philadelphia director of public safety Mike Resnick says he’d like more proof CeaseFire reduces violence.
“It’s an interesting model, where people who are from the neighborhood, and used to be in the life, can get to individuals and relate to them,” he said. “But we’re not running out celebrating yet.”
CeaseFire supervisor Quinzel Tomoney 43, said he knows they have played a part in decreasing violence.
“Maybe there was one shooting out there, but if we hadn’t been there, there would have been three,” he said.
Tomoney, who was previously involved with drug dealing, left prison in 2005. Now, he says, he’s trying to “live a right life.”
“We need the communities to help us. Just call us: ‘Listen, my son got a gun, come over here and talk to him.’ … Because once he starts shooting, it’s out of our hands,” Tomoney said. “Cops are gonna get him. Before the cops get him, we still have a chance to work with him and stop the retaliation.”
Philadelphia CeaseFire is based at the Temple University Center for Bioethics, Urban Health and Policy.
Temple is also studying the effectiveness of Ceasefire for reducing levels of violence.
The group is mostly active in the 22nd and part of the 39th police districts but will go anywhere in the city.
Call Philly CeaseFire at (215) 913-6917.
Hear Tomoney describe CeaseFire himself below.