Atlantic City’s anti-violence unit has a hard time counting its successes.
That’s because they can’t herald the crimes that didn’t happen.
“If there’s one shooting, you don’t hear about the 15 that we possibly stopped,” Nafis Hamilton explained when BreakingAC met with the team for a better understanding of their work. “A lot of stuff we do goes unnoticed and everyone in here is happy with that.”
One Neighborhood Evolution was formed in November 2020, as a response to the street violence.
But it was those chosen for the job that brought questions from the outside, even if there was a deeper understanding within the community.
“Who best to guide those who are going astray than those who have went astray?” asked unit leader Floyd Tally, who prefers to go by Talib-diyn Abdullah.
Two years after his anti-violence initiative began, the mayor points to a dip in homicides and other violence as a testament to their work.
There have been four fatal shootings in the city this year, about a third of last year, said Tawana Taliaferro, who Small refers to as the first lady of the program.
The aim, however, is no killings, Abdullah said.
“Are we satisfied with that record right there? No,” he said. “Violence in itself is not normal. We’re satisfied with zero every year.”
But “if you didn’t have this program in place there would be more violence in the city than there is now,” said Kamal Allen, who previously did federal time.
Abdullah was just a teen when he found family in a gang. Having served time in prison, he now says he’s determined to help others get off the same path he went down.
Arrod Moore remembers being one of the kids Abdullah tried to help nearly a decade and half ago.
But like Abdullah, Moore had to learn the hard way. After doing about five years in prison, he got out determined to make a living and provide for his family.
Then around 2018, Moore got a peek into what would eventually be his calling.
A young man had just been killed in the city, and a growing war was brewing.
“There was Mr. Tally again. He was like, ‘Yo, we need your help,'” Moore recalled.
“I need you to grab some kids up. We’re gonna meet at the masjid,” Abdullah told him. “We’re gonna put out this feud.”
Moore didn’t ask questions. He just got some kids in a car and met up with the group at the mosque.
The gathering included factions from Back Maryland and Stanley Holmes Village, two sides that have a deep history of trouble.
While there was arguing, “cooler heads prevailed,” Moore said. “That struck something in my mind that I probably could do something like this.”
It would be a couple of years — and a 2019 drug case for which he was given two years probation — before Moore would find himself working for the city in a similar capacity.
“You’ve got a group of hardworking individuals that are putting their lives on the line,” Small said.
He’s not exaggerating.
He knows there are whispers questioning whether he really is removed from his past. But Moore says he’s dealing with many of the same people now in an effort to put them on a different road.
“Him being wounded was in the line of duty,” Abdullah insisted. “He was actually trying to bring a situation to peace when it did occur.”
“It’s frustrating when you know you’re providing all the necessary tools to succeed and you have political opportunists politicizing murders and shootings,” the mayor said.
Moore said he understands the talk, and the danger.
Being shot was “an unfortunate event but my mind set is you just got to keep pushing forward,” he said. “Once you go out that door you don’t have a badge, you don’t have a gun. You can’t defend yourself, so you’re just really going off the trust of the people.”
Building those relationships is a key part of the job, said Asmar Coley.
And time often is a detriment
“These kids have got a lot of time on their hands,” Coley said. “That’s time to get in trouble.”
Tyyona Robinson has seen that first hand.
Before the program, her teenage sons were out fighting and getting into trouble, she said.
Things are different now.
“They go to school and come to work,” she said. “It stopped a lot of them being in the street them fighting.”
Deshawn Ward already had developed relationships with the city’s youth and provided an outlet for their time when he joined the team.
The co-founder of Stay Hungry Sports was already using basketball to help the Stop the Violence movement.
“This violence prevention program became 10 times better because we added one person who was already doing it,” Abdullah said of Ward.
“You’ve got to give the kids something,” Craig Newsome said. “When most of us hit the streets, you didn’t have anything in place to basically give them money.”
That’s why he says the jobs program aspect of what their unit is doing is so important.
“We give them a work ethic,” Newsome said. “They see us, and it gives them an example. They might not have an example at home.”
The Atlantic County Gun Initiative works with judges, probation and parole to help young offenders and adults with gun charges to get jobs and a different direction, explained Omar McDaniels.
Four kids who started out on ankle bracelets not only have jobs, but they no longer have those electronic monitors, he said.
“Who would have thought when they were out there doing what they’re doing, one day they would be on conference calls with judges?” Small said.
He said the state is in full support, including monetarily.
The anti-violence initiatives received $1.5 million from the state this past year and another $2 million for next year.
“I wish we had the program back when we were their age,” Robinson said.
“We had to figure it out on our own,” Newsome said. “So, we’re just trying to be there for them and let them know, the streets ain’t it.”
CAPTION: The unit members attended a convention in D.C. to meet with another similar program.