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Peacemakers Alliance Lacks Transparency, Cleveland City Council Says

Cleveland City Council’s safety committee on Wednesday heard a presentation from the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance on some of its goals and programming. But the group faced criticism for what council members said was a lack of communication and transparency.

The violence intervention group focuses on community engagement, retaliation prevention, and connecting people with services in the Cleveland area.

The Peacekeepers are more effective if they are not associated with police or local officials, said Grady Stevenson, the city’s director of community relations.

“We don’t want our guys to be able to be identified,” Stevenson said. “We want them to be as mixed in with the community as we can possibly have, that way they can do better work.”

But Councilman Joe Jones asked the Peacemakers what specifically had been done in his ward, including the Lee-Harvard neighborhood, calling for better communication with local officials and more transparency.

“Especially if I’m at the table to approve any legislation concerning this, I should have every detail in depth of what’s going on in my neighborhood,” Jones said. “In fact, not to have it, have this hearing and know really much about what they’re doing in my neighborhood, and they’ve been in existence since 2007, is unacceptable.”

Stevenson and Peacemakers representatives could not provide specific examples of their work at the meeting.

“There’s no way we can say we stopped seven shootings in Ward 1,” Stevenson said. “But what we can say is we’ve been successful with a lot of young people in Ward 1 with the work we’ve been doing.”

Ward 8 Councilman Michael Polensek asked the Peacekeepers to provide reports or regular updates on their efforts in the neighborhoods around Cleveland.

“I’m not asking for your Peacekeepers to walk around with DayGlo jackets on saying Peacekeepers,” Polensek said. “We understand there’s things that have to be done privately and confidentially. But communicate to us.”

The organization could meet with council members to discuss specific efforts underway, said Peacemakers Board Chairman Kevin Griffin, and provide reports in the future.

“Know this, we’re on the same page, we hear your points of view,” Griffin said. “We know that’s coming from a place of good and not criticism. But we’re here to be partners.”

The Peacemakers Alliance currently has 13 fulltime employees, Griffin said, and is seeking a permanent director. When fully staffed, he said, the organization plans to have 17 members.

Councilman Basheer Jones, who represents Ward 7’s Asiatown and Hough neighborhoods, said he understood the Peacemaker’s need to avoid direct association with law enforcement. But the group could benefit from connecting with council members who do community engagement, he said.

“This idea that this is like a covert operation that I can’t know, why would I support something like that?” Jones asked. “Because there are those like myself who are in the community and who know people.”

The organization is working to improve its work and broaden its impact, Interim Executive Director Myesha Crowe said, including to find ways to collaborate with city council.

“If we can connect, let’s do it,” Crowe said. “We’ve got to fill the gaps. How can we fill the gaps while we’re growing into what we know we need to be for the city? It’s just about communication.”

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Grady Stevenson as the Peacemakers' director of community relations. Stevenson works for the City of Cleveland.

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