Marshon Peoples is trying to wage war against gang violence in West Michigan. Peoples says he’s up against nearly 100 gangs in Grand Rapids alone.
Peoples was caught in the middle of a gang shoot out in January and was shot in the back of the head.
He said he is lucky to be alive, and is now making it his mission to save the same type of people that nearly ended his life.
Peoples has battled and resisted gangs his entire life, “I got the wounds on my body to prove it. That’s why I do what I do.”
The age of his enemy is getting younger and younger, “It’s more like ten years old, starting out in elementary school.”
That’s the age Peoples said gangs get in, “It’s called ‘caught in pocket’. The gang members pay for groceries for the family or food or rent, now you owe, so now you’re stuck in this relationship where you don’t get out.”
At the Streams of Hope Church on January 7th, this gang war nearly took his life.
While hosting a church event, designed to keep teens away from house parties, he got caught in the crossfire.
As bullets fly, Peoples is hit in the back of the head.
“But now after being shot in the head, and I’m still at it, maybe they will be like, this is somebody who will listen,” said Peoples.
Getting someone to open up about being in a gang isn’t easy and Peoples knows it.
“Parents can’t ask piercing questions like, where have you been? It has to be, how was your day?,” said Peoples.
He encourages parents to pay attention to who is spending time with their children.
Peoples said, “Instead of you asking, who is that you are with? Say introduce me to your friend.”
He said parents should pay attention to obvious changes, like new clothes for example.
“Not where did you get that from, but oh, nice jacket and now it’s a conversation,” said Peoples. “What made you buy that jacket? How did you buy that jacket?”
Other evidence, like gang graffiti or tags, may be harder to decipher.
“When you see a tag,” he said, “they are marking territory, sometimes it’s a hit. They will mention a name and put RIP and a date. It will be encoded, you won’t know who they are talking about.”
According to Peoples, gangs are looking for kids who aren’t involved with their own family. Once they are in a gang, it escalates.
The scary part now, he said, is the gangs involvement in prostitution of young girls by way of blackmail.
“Invite them to house parties, slipping them something to make them intoxicated, taking pictures of them doing certain acts and telling them if you don’t continue doing this deed, we got you,” said Peoples.
In order for girls to protect themselves, they are forming their own gangs, “They are often times more diabolical than other gangs,” he said.
The police are trying, but Peoples said they can only do so much with the resources they have.
“Their hands are tied, and it’s not easy for police officers to transform it because now they are looked at as the enemy anyway,” he said.
Peoples is trying a new approach. He wants to target active gang members and give them a choice.
The program is called I.C.O.N. Innovative City Operations Network. Peoples is currently looking for funding.
His plan of physically removing active gang members from their environment and training them to use their skills for legal activities is an expensive one, but he asks, ‘What if it works? What if it ends gang violence?’
Peoples said his plan from there is to do it over and over again, “Then we take that individual that did change and use that same person to get another one and say, look I made it out, let me help you too.”
His end goal is to start his own non-profit dealing with gangs. He hopes with a little financial support and community involvement he’ll be up and running next year.
If you would like to help Marhon Peoples in his quest, you can connect with him on his Facebook page.