A group of men intent on curbing bloodshed in Boston by intervening in bubbling disputes before they turn violent is putting out the call for people to call them for help.
The Black-led effort – called the 10,000 Fearless Peacemakers – was formed out of tragedy in April 2019 when Eleanor Maloney, 74, was killed on her front porch in Mattapan by a stray bullet fired betweenneighborhood rivals in conflict. Minister Randy Muhammad, leader of Muhammad’s Mosque #11 in Grove Hall, said at the time that he had called on others to “change the culture in our community.”
“I tell people all the time every conflict doesn’t have to end in violence with someone getting shot or stabbed,” he said. “We are a totally neutral third party. We’ve had several mediations and by the grace of God each has been successful. Each of them had the potential to eventually be deadly conflicts.”
District 4 Councillor Brian Worrell said he supports the efforts of the hotline and plans to include the the 10,000 Fearless program in his upcoming safety plan.
“If we are to ensure our communities are safe and healthy, we need to expand our collaboration with community partners who already have a presence on the streets, in our neighborhoods, and are empowering community members,” he said. “Relationships and trust cannot be manufactured, and that is what is needed in order for programs to work.”
He added that the hotline makes sense as a solution grounded in reality, “Most mothers don’t want to call the police on their child. Most people seeking retaliation aren’t thinking of calling the police when they have a personal dispute with someone. This is why it’s important to have an alternative.”
The group stages weekly peace walks in areas that have recently experienced violent incidents. Last Tuesday, the “Hour of Power” walk made its way through Grove Hall where 10 to 20 members – most wearing their trademark bright orange clothing – marched through the neighborhood with a megaphone announcing their presence. They handed out palm cards that read, “We are present for peace; making our communities a safe and decent place to live.”
They spoke to people on the corners, people sitting in their cars, and folks taking a break on their front porches. The response from the streets seemed enthusiastic. Along the walk, several folks called out from third-story windows in affirmation, thanking the men for their efforts.
While the outings have gone on for several years, this winter, the group is highlighting its ‘‘Stop the Beef Hotline,’ which started in 2021 and is something Muhammad hopes will result in more interventions. The number is 1-833-4-NO-SMOKE, or 1-833-466-7665 by the numbers.
“We’re really trying to get that number out and people will know they can call it,” he said, emphasizing that the effort isn’t anti-establishment, but rather pro-community. “The police have their job to do, and this is to serve and protect, but more importantly it is to solve crimes and I believe they’re required to do that,” he added. “The good thing about us not being the police but a community-based solution is I’m not interested in arresting you or solving crimes that may have been committed; I’m only interested in stopping the violence.
“Guys aren’t going to be truthful and have that level of transparency to really solve the situation.”
Muhammad said that group members present themselves as a neutral third party group dedicated to de-escalation and conflict resolution. They take calls from individuals going through conflict or from people who know of a situation. Usually, both parties want an off-ramp, but don’t know where to find that. In other cases, they can’t allow a situation of disrespect to go unchallenged, as it could lead to a reputation of weakness, and further victimization.
Members of the 10,000 Fearless Peacemakers on their weekly peace walk, known as the Hour of Power, in the Grove Hall neighborhood on Dec. 27. The group has been “present for peace” since 2019.
Seth Daniel photo
“A lot of times people feel compelled to violence and that’s because in our culture that’s the only remedy to solve problems,” Muhammad said. “We aren’t taught how to solve conflict peacefully…There is an idea that as a man or a stand-up guy there are things you have to do. A lot of times people are trying to save face and don’t know a way out. We’re offering that other option…”
Mediation sessions typically start when a call is made to the hotline. Three members of the 10,000 Fearless have phones that take such calls, which Muhammad said is the “low budget” way of doing things, but the only way to do it right now. Members put together a mediation team and identify four or five members who will sit in the session. Then they talk to both beefing parties separately and work out a time for mediation.
For the actual mediation, they offer a neutral location with a safe environment where everyone is searched, and parties arrive at staggered times through separate entrances. Because members like Minister Randy have worked as chaplains in the state prisons and county Houses of Correction for many years, they carry a respect and trust on the streets that allows those in conflict to avoid violence and still “save face” with others.
So far, the 10,000 Fearless have had 7 to 10 successful mediations that likely saved lives, Muhammad said. “All of them really had the potential to be conflicts that could be deadly. I’m really proud that we’ve done that,” he added. “They were serious and not school-yard beefs. These were grown men, hardened criminals who had been in and out of jail and were gang-involved and who carry guns. They were serious conflicts.”
The minister is joined by members who he says are trained in conflict resolution, CPR, First Aid, mediation, and non-violent self-defense based on a curriculum developed from a national peacemaking initiative. Some 30 men have graduated and are certified.
“No one else will do this so we have to do it,” said member Brother Jeffrey 4X. “Someone has to come out to where people are at. They have to look them in the eye and let them know they care…We knock on their doors, and we greet them from the sidewalk. They need us out here. They want us here.”
Added member Jah Rab, “People want peace. Too many people want to go in a room and close the door and that isn’t getting it done. If we don’t do this, who will?”
With some successes over the last year, the 10,000 Fearless Peacemakers hope this year to add more local men to their ranks and get more backing from city officials. Muhammad said they would like to have publicity materials promoting their hotline in public places, on billboards, and on the MBTA buses.
“When you have an organic group coming out of the community doing an initiative in the best interest of everyone, that should be supported,” he said.