Bull City United Fights Crime In Durham Like It’s A Treatable Disease

Jan 23, 2018

At the recent "Week of Peace" candlelight vigil, Daryl Quick read the names of victims of Durham’ 2017 gun violence.

“...John Wesley Pruit Jr., 41. Willard Eugene Scott Jr., 31. Kenneth Lee Baily Jr., 24...” read Quick, president of Take Back Durham. The vigil was sponsored by Bull City United, an organization tasked with addressing gun violence in the community.

It's personal with me fighting this battle out here. I want this neighborhood to be back like it was when I used to run through here. -David Johnson

"It’s personal with me fighting this battle out here,” said David Johnson, 36, a Bull City United Violence Interrupter at the vigil. “I want this neighborhood to be back like it was when I used to run through here.”

The Durham County Health Department adopted the Bull City United model a year ago as a crime-fighting program modeled after one in Chicago that’s getting positive reviews across the country. That program, known as the Cure Violence Model, confronts violence like it’s a contagious disease – a disease that can be treated.

By many accounts, the Bull City United model is working.

“We have definitely had an impact throughout the city by doing mediations, conflict mediations, and finding a different way to resolve conflicts verses just shooting,” said Dorel Clayton, who supervises the Bull City United team. “It is a public health issue. It is, it truly is.”

Bull City United supervisor Dorel Clayton, right, speaks the names of victims of gun violence in Durham during a "Week of Peace" candlelight vigil at McDougald Terrace on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. The organization was formed last year and is part of Durham County Department of Public Health.
Credit Christine Nguyen / For WUNC

From 2016 to 2017, shooting incidents in the organization’s target communities of Southside and McDougald Terrace were down 12 percent to 75 incidents, according to police statistics. The total number of people actually shot in those target communities was also down 43 percent during that time period.

This drop is despite an increase in the total number of shooting incidents in Durham from 703 in 2016, to 729 in 2017.

In 2015, the U.S. Justice Department issued a report that revealed Durham’s homicide rate for black men was eight times the national rate. And a lot of that gun violence was concentrated in southern Durham, with a large poor, minority population.

University of Illinois-Chicago Epidemiologist Gary Slutkin developed the Cure Violence Model more than 20 years ago. It’s now used in more than 50 U.S. cities and abroad. Clayton and the other seven Bull City United team members trained in Chicago last year to learn how to do what they do.

Durham County consults with Cure Violence and is sold on the model of treating violent crime like an epidemic, according to Mel Downey-Piper, the county’s health education and community transformation director.

“It says violence is just a behavior, so, just like smoking is a behavior, so we can work on it,” Downey-Piper said. “We can change the cultural norms in our community, and I think that’s really important.”

Destiny Gordon, 9, takes part in the Bull City United "Week of Peace" candlelight vigil on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.
Credit Christine Nguyen / For WUNC

Durham County approved $420,000 for Bull City United in its fiscal 2017 budget. Of that, the county paid approximately $100,000 to Cure Violence for training and support, according to Downey-Piper.

For many at the candlelight vigil, the organization's efforts hit close to home.

Linda Dixon handed out out Bull City United T-shirts, stickers and rubber bracelets at the Cornwallis Road public housing. For the past year she has lived in the McDougald Terrace community which has a reputation of high crime and gun violence. That’s where the Bull City United office is located. Dixon said she volunteers for the organization because she likes what the team has done for her sons.

“They help a lot of our young black guys get jobs,” Dixon said. “They help some of them go to school. They are just a good support group. They are very good. I have a 24-year-old. I have a 23-year-old, and they’ve helped them also, to stop being in a gang and getting their lives together.”

Bull City United says it has helped 14 young men find jobs. And they have resolved 77 conflict mediations involving more than 500 mostly black males, conflicts that were very likely to result in a shooting, according to Clayton. As it looks ahead, Bull City United is preparing to open a second office this year.


Residents of the Cornwallis housing community in Durham gather during a Bull City United "Week of Peace" candlelight vigil on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 in Durham. The organization also held vigils at East End Park, Edgemont, Southside and McDougald Terrace.
Credit Christine Nguyen / For WUNC

Sha'miyah Council, 9, and Linda Dixon put out candles, t-shirts and bracelets Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 as they volunteer at a Bull City United "Week of Peace" event at the Cornwallis housing community in Durham. The organization, in it's second year, held candlelight vigils in Durham communities where violence has been prevalent in order to curb the number of violent crimes committed.
Credit Christine Nguyen / For WUNC

The motto of Bull City United is "peace is a lifestyle."
Credit Christine Nguyen / For WUNC