At 1:00 a.m., Timothy Jennings-Bey drove down the dark, quiet Syracuse streets to a grisly murder scene. There he met with a grieving mother who just witnessed her son being gunned down in front of their home. Standing next to her was the victim’s thirteen year-old brother, with a look of devastation and anger reflected in his features.
Most couldn’t imagine pulling themselves out of bed in the middle of the night to face such a heartbreaking scene. But to Jennings-Bey, it is an all too common horror in his mission to put a stop to street violence and its resulting trauma. He serves as the Trauma Response Team’s Director and founder of the Street Addiction Institute (SAI).
Jennings-Bey founded SAI two years ago after studying the concept of behavioral addiction to street violence, culminating in the national publication of his 2014 paper, Street Addiction: A Proposed Theoretical Model for Understanding the Draw of Street Life and Gang Activity, in the Journal of Addiction Research and Theory. Now, through SAI, he sets out to break the cycle of neighborhood violence and associated trauma that can lead to retaliation and a life of incarceration and poverty.
The gravity of seeing a friend get shot, losing a loved one, or even just living in and around violent neighborhoods can cause feelings of grief and fear, leading to post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, revenge violence, and detachment from friends, family and school, according to the Syracuse Neighborhood Violence Research Network. This can impede one’s ability to maintain healthy relationships, gain a proper education, or secure a job.
2016 was the deadliest year in Syracuse’s history. There were 31 murders reported in Syracuse that year, making the city’s per-capita homicide rate higher than that of other Upstate New York cities and five times higher than New York City.
“The impact of this violence in such a small geographic area is that most members of the community know multiple people who have been shot, stabbed, and/or killed,” said Jennings-Bey. “Many affected people are experiencing trauma similar to those who live in war zones. We need to tackle this head-on and protect our communities by preventing future trauma from repeating itself in these neighborhoods.”
SAI actively works with the Trauma Response Team as well as other community groups to conduct intervention and prevention services around issues related to trauma, grief, loss, violence, and behavioral addiction. SAI utilizes messengers – such as therapists, pastors, and social workers – within high-violence neighborhoods who can best connect with the challenges that residents are facing. These messengers are on the front lines, responding to neighborhood shootings and providing help to the victims’ families.
SAI is currently working on becoming an independent organization. This includes opening and staffing an office with a dedicated associate that will manage operations, grant requests, service contracts, and programming, putting the organization in a better position to serve more individuals and combat violence more effectively.