The first whispers of the Peacemakers hit Western New York in reaction to the 2007 Juneteenth festival in Buffalo becoming the site of violent shootings.
Pastor James Giles had been asked, by Buffalo Police, to reach out to members of community organizations such as the Stop the Violence Coalition, which by then was defunct, and come up with a plan to try to make sure the next year's festival was free of such "mayhem."
“We did, we came together. I got the heads of organizations like the Fathers, the Mad Dogs, Buffalo United Front, and Stop the Violence Coalition. We got together and said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to come together as a unit and strategically make sure young people don’t create harm,’” Giles said.
The 2008 Juneteenth festival was a success and the group initiated by Giles began fielding requests to attend a variety of events that could draw a crowd, including football and basketball games.
“Anywhere there was the potential of violence, they called on us,” Giles said.
The group got funding in 2013 and started calling themselves the Buffalo Peacemakers.
“We have a training model, we have a protocol for how we do business, and we’re officially an umbrella organization for any Peacemakers in this region,” Giles said.
That umbrella eventually opened over Niagara Falls, Rochester and Syracuse, and now Lockport, where a Peacemakers chapter has been established and a membership recruiting meeting was held this past Friday.
According to Ezra Scott, coordinator of the Niagara Falls chapter, the power of local Peacemakers is this:
“Just ... simply knowing somebody’s name and being able to call out their name in the middle of a situation. They could’ve been ready to go stab somebody, ready to go rob a store. But if you call their name, that right there will stop them for a moment and help them rethink what they were actually about to do.”
Paula Halliday-Travis is the secretary of the Lockport Peacemakers chapter. She’s also president of the PTA in Lockport and at the recruiting meeting she spoke of witnessing altercations between acquaintances and situations that she felt she could de-escalate. She encouraged people to become Peacemakers and be a force for good.
“We’re just there to de-escalate the use of violence on the street,” she said. “We’re not police, we’re not patrolling. We’re new at this, so it’s going to take awhile to get our feet wet.”
“There is an application that just asks why you want to be a Peacemaker,” she continued. “It also consents to a background check, because we do a lot of things with children.”
One of the roles that Peacemakers take on is youth mentor, often through the Safe Passage Program in which Peacemakers will place themselves around a school when it lets out for the day and walk students to their buses or homes. Crime goes down as a result, according to Giles.
“The evidence is from law enforcement, who said the arrests of students went way down,” he said.
The Buffalo and Niagara Falls chapters have also been called to local protest rallies to de-escalate any violence and allow peaceful protest to continue.
For the Lockport chapter, Halliday-Travis said 18 people have volunteered so far and the results of their background checks are pending. For an application, email Halliday-Travis at email@example.com or look up Lockport Peacemakers on Facebook.