Paterson Healing Collective works to reduce gun violence in the city
The city of Paterson saw a record number of homicides in 2020 and 2021. But a program shown to be successful in reducing violence in Baltimore and other cities launched in Paterson late in 2020.
Community members are hopeful that it will also help to reduce the violence in Paterson.
“I can respond to three shootings in one night. And after those three shootings in one night, I still have to decompress. I’m left with tears in my eyes,” says Teddy Martinez of the Paterson Healing Collective.
Martinez describes the more than 100 times he has stood at the hospital bed of a surviving shooting victim in his native Paterson. Martinez says he knows what it is like to be in that hospital bed.
He was shot 11 times in three different incidents when he was younger. He served 18 years in prison for retaliating. Now when there is a shooting, Martinez goes to the victim’s bedside to try and persuade them from doing what he did.
“I definitely wish I had someone in orange come and pull me aside and say, ‘Listen little bro, this is not something you want to do,’” Martinez says.
Martinez is the hospital violence intervention coordinator with the Paterson Healing Collective – a collaborative effort with St. Joseph’s University Medical Center aimed at breaking the vicious cycle of retaliatory gun violence that has destroyed so many lives.
“I said, ‘Oh yeah, we have to bring this stuff to Paterson,” says Liza Chowdhury.
Chowdhury founded the collective in October 2020. She holds a PhD in criminal justice. She spent a decade working as a Passaic County probation officer before realizing that the young people in her caseload weren't getting what they needed from the system.
“They needed more. It didn’t make any sense to keep violating them or bringing them back to the courts,” Chowdhury says.
When a shooting happens in Paterson, Healing Collective workers deploy to the hospital to meet with the victim and their family. The person assigned to the victim’s bedside is a former survivor of violence. The first goal is to counsel the victim to prevent retaliation. Then to help the victim with whatever they need – counseling, a job, health insurance, housing – anything they need to steer clear of violence.
There is also long-term follow up with group counseling sessions and community work.
Chowdhury says there are signs the efforts are paying off, with some neighborhoods seeing fewer shootings since the collective began.
The Paterson Healing Collective is funded in part by a federal grant administered by the state of New Jersey.