Operation Ceasefire is a project that was developed by David Kennedy, a self-taught criminologist and director at the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Kennedy developed the idea for Operation Ceasefire after visiting a public housing complex in south-central Los Angeles in 1985. Kennedy’s visit had a powerful impact on him as he witnessed the impact of drugs, gangs, and violence on this community. Kennedy dedicated his career to reducing gang and drug-related inner-city violence. He traveled around the United States, meeting with police officials and attorney generals in areas with significant drug markets, and first developed a program in Boston which has now been applied in 70 other cities. The program has been effective in reducing youth homicide rates by as much as sixty percent. “It is incredibly dangerous,” says Kennedy. “If you talk to these guys, what they say is, ‘I’m terrified … I got shot … My brother’s dead … I’ve been shot at … And they are trying to shoot me …’ That [is] their everyday world.” Kennedy’s homicide-reduction program, Operation Ceasefire, established meetings involving gang members, community members that the gang members respected, social services representatives, and law enforcement. Part of the strategy involved making it known to gang members that the police did not want to arrest them, but wanted them to stay alive and out of the criminal justice system. The police did intend to aggressively target people engaged in violent retaliation against one another. Involving the mothers of drug dealers in these meetings was also a crucial factor in reducing community violence. “We said, ‘Your son is at a turning point. He could be arrested right this minute, but we don’t want to do that. We understand how much that damages him and his community. There’s going to be a meeting in a week. Please come with your son to the meeting”. Nearly all invitees to these meetings came. This has been shown to have a significant effect on closing down open-air drug markets.
Kennedy developed this program to be implemented in informal educational settings, bringing together a diverse array of participants. Gang members, their families – especially the mothers, members of the community at large, and law enforcement officials must be involved in order for the program to be successful. Because this program is intergenerational, it does not work without involving both the older and younger generations. In a way, the older generation becomes part of the educational process by speaking with the young generation both about how much they care about them and about how much they are being hurt by these dangerous activities such as drug dealing and violence.
Community building is thoroughly upheld by this program by strengthening the relationships between generations and between gang members and the rest of society. Additionally, this project explores approaches to peace by bringing together unlikely partners aimed at achieving the same ends – eradicating violence in affected communities.
While the program itself is a peace education activity targeted at the affected communities, it would be very beneficial for students, particularly in high school to learn about this project. High school students are at the age where they are most likely to join a gang, and also most likely to suffer from gang violence. A part of the cycle of violence is that many of the gang members themselves are afraid, which leads to retaliation as a product of fear. Perhaps bringing this program directly into high schools could curb this fear and change detrimental behaviors before they start.