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Anti-violence group appeals directly to Syracuse's youth

Tom Magnarelli
Clifford Ryan in downtown Syracuse.

Anti-violence and social justice groups in Syracuse are focusing on what's called conflict transformation or getting to the root of what is causing violence in the community. One man started walking through some of the most crime-ridden streets in Syracuse directly engaging with young people to try to do just that.

16 years ago, Clifford Ryan lost his son to gun violence on the streets of Syracuse’s south side. Earlier this year, when 11 people were shot in Syracuse over the Fourth of July weekend, it prompted Ryan to take action.

“What I did was I took a piece of cardboard box and I wrote O.G.’s Against Violence on it,” Ryan said.

O.G. stands for original gangster an urban slang, but Ryan wants it to now mean old guys or old gentlemen against violence.

“No one was actually getting out in the street and walking," Ryan said. "That got they’re attention. When I came out there with that sign, the youth responded in a way that was a very good and positive thing.”

Ryan attends prayer vigils and has given talks at schools in Syracuse. He walks through some tough neighborhoods in the city with his anti-gun violence sign.

“What the organization is about is getting out and dealing with the youth that are directly involved in the violence, meaning we’re going through the most dangerous areas in the city and we’re talking with the individuals that are doing the violence,” Ryan said.

He said young men have come up to him and told him his work made them stop and think before they did something they might regret; a deadly overreaction to something as trivial as teasing.

Mark Cass is the director of the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse and said the group's members are interested in helping Ryan expand and improve his efforts.

“Clifford would be standing between two youth who were ‘beefing’ with each other and preventing it,” Cass said. “He invites these youth to hold the sign and have their picture taken and he posts it on a Facebook page as a sending of a signal that these kids are reachable and at that moment standing with him to stay the gun violence has to stop.”

Ryan said his group is focused on next summer, when gun violence typically peaks.

“It’s a community problem as a whole," Ryan said. "If you can bring it down from 23 homicides, down to maybe one of two, that’s a major accomplishment.”

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.