In 2000, 15-year-old Jennifer Rivera was gunned down in front of her house. She was the state’s key witness in a murder trial and was to testify the next day. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an isolated incident in Jennifer’s crime-stricken neighborhood.
But it was a pivotal one.
Jennifer’s murder was the catalyst for the creation of The Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence. Tired of burying their neighborhood children, the St. Michael’s Ministry Team took action, founding ISPN in its church rectory. In 2000, 30 people were murdered in Providence, and 45 were killed statewide.
“The sheer number of deaths of young people by young people prompted [us] to do more than preach and teach. We were determined to create a center of nonviolence that focused on confronting violence with nonviolence. Providing training opportunities in nonviolence that could stir hearts into a change of life. Nonviolence training is the core that built the Institute. The other dimensions provide the vehicles for that change.” – Sister Ann Keefe, Founder
While ISPN’s long-term mission is about building a culture of nonviolence, ISPN’s immediate objective is to prevent violence, and particularly youth gang violence. We accomplish this by immediately intervening in violent situations, and work with youth to introduce nonviolence as a better alternative. We provide a continuum of care to our clients and their families to educate, sustain, console, and celebrate with them along their journey to a nonviolent lifestyle.
Why Nonviolence Theory?
ISPN is one powerful example of a national experiment to eliminate gang violence that has been underway for the last 20 years. David Kennedy describes this national experiment in his book “Don’t Shoot” (2011). The theory behind the experiment is relatively simple:
- Organize police, judiciary and community groups dedicated to reducing violence
- Identify the usually small number of people responsible for the majority of violent acts
- Zero in on the behaviors that will not be tolerated
- Communicate in advance to the violent group the punitive consequences that will follow their actions
- Tell the group that the community stands ready to welcome them back in and help them on their way
- Deliver honestly both the opportunities and the punitive consequences.
It is essential, Kennedy argues, that this process be delivered by a “moral voice.” As simple as it is in theory, history, culture and politics make delivering this solution very difficult. Conservative critics argue that it coddles criminals, and often advocate zero-tolerance as a better alternative. Liberal critics often argue that solving “root” causes requires large-scale cultural transformation, and rooting out poverty and racism.
ISPN’s practice argues an alternative to both of these perspectives: we can dramatically reduce violence by bringing together people who traditionally view one another as the enemy. We create dialogue and common ground, focus on immediate goals, define consequences and opportunities, and stay the course. Violence, this approach argues, is fundamentally a problem resolved by relationship and community. This approach is not “soft on crime”, but “smart on crime”. It also supports the work of others who share a long-term vision of eradicating root causes of violence like poverty, poor education, and racism.
We can dramatically reduce violence by bringing together people who traditionally view one another as the enemy, defining consequences and opportunities, and staying the course.
For over a decade, ISPN has been a part of creating this solution in Rhode Island. Our unique contributors are our staff, who are a knowledgeable and trustworthy voice. The philosophy and method of nonviolence ISPN offers is a practical substitute for violence and ISPN’s deep commitment to welcoming people who have been deeply injured by violence, as perpetrators and victims, back into the Beloved Community.
ISPN, in collaboration with its partners, is advancing the nonviolence movement. Thank you for sharing in our work.