Woman Takes LEAD On Familiar Turf

Thomas Breen photo Rasheen Murphy grew up in the Hill in the early 1990s. She saw friends and family struggle with drug addiction and fall victim to violent crime and incarceration. She had her first child at age 15, while still a student at Wilbur Cross High School.

Twenty years later, Murphy still lives in the Hill and is about to start working with the city and the police department to help keep low-level, non-violent criminals in her neighborhood out of jail and away from some of the challenges that she and her peers faced while growing up on those same city blocks.

On Tuesday night at the Hill North Community Management Team’s monthly meeting at Career High School, Murphy introduced herself as the neighborhood’s community liaison for the city’s new grant-funded Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which is slated to begin in the Hill North, Hill South, and downtown neighborhoods in November.

Developed in Seattle and already in practice in Albany; Bangor, Maine; and Baltimore, LEAD is an experimental law enforcement initiative that seeks to redirect low-level offenders engaged in drug abuse, prostitution, and other non-violent street crimes away from the criminal justice system and towards a case worker and rehabilitative social services.

The central idea of LEAD is that affordable housing, gainful employment, and substance abuse treatment are more effective and efficient than arrests and imprisonment at addressing issues related to poverty, mental health, and addiction.

Much like Project Longevity, a heralded city program that seeks to give gang members one last chance at reintegrating into society, LEAD is a collaborative endeavor that brings together police officers, social workers, healthcare professionals, and concerned members of the community to rally around low-level criminals and try to stabilize their lives for their own safety as well as for that of the neighborhood.

Earlier this year, city officials took a trip to Seattle to learn more about LEAD and the manager of Albany, New York’s LEAD program came to New Haven to help the city pitch the program to the Hill North management team.

As a LEAD community liaison, Murphy will be responsible for working closely with the city’s Community Services Administration (CSA), the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, and the Hill North’s top cop Lt. Jason Minardi to help identify potential candidates for LEAD and to visit and support the families of neighbors who are going through the program.

Most importantly, she is supposed to represent a voice and a perspective from the neighborhood at LEAD conversations among the city, healthcare workers, and police officers.

“Not everyone is going to be comfortable talking with me,” Minardi said about New Haven’s upcoming implementation of LEAD. “But they’re definitely going to be comfortable talking with Rasheen. You might have community members who have a loved one who is suffering from an addiction but they don’t know where to go. They can go to Rasheen, and she can guide them into this process. She can be a liaison between families, LEAD, and me.”

For Murphy, that role of a connective thread between the community and LEAD makes perfect sense, because she grew up surrounded by people working through the very problems that this program is designed to address.

“I’ve lost a lot of friends,” Murphy said. “I know a lot of guys who went to jail. I know the reasons why they went to jail. For most of us, when we grew up, if your parents were not on drugs, you were special. Because that’s how many parents were on drugs in New Haven. And that’s how you get to what we see today. And I don’t want that to happen to the generation underneath us.”

Murphy said that when she hears about the murder of a 14-year-old boy this summer in Newhallville or about a gang member going to prison for decades for shooting and killing his best friend, her heart breaks. Now a 36-year-old mother of two, she said that it is easy to ask with dismay: How can people do this to each other?

But then she reflects on the systemic challenges that many young people in this city face, and that she herself faced as a young girl growing up on Ward Street in the Hill.

“If you live in a dysfunctional situation and your friend is dysfunctional and we hang together and this all seems normal,” she said, “nobody is there to say: This isn’t normal. A lot of these people are in survival mode. That’s all they’ve known since childhood. I got to get my next meal. Does this friendship really matter if I’m hungry? If I’m trying to feed my addiction? You’ve got angry kids and childhood issues that are never dealt with.”

Murphy herself said that she had her first child when she was only 15, and that the father of one of her two children just recently got sent to jail. Nevertheless, she managed to graduate from high school, has worked extensively with mentally ill patients at private and public group homes throughout the state, and now owns a home just a few blocks from where she grew up.

As a community liaison for LEAD, she said, she is hoping to use her intimate understanding of some of the challenges of growing up in New Haven to help other families in the Hill find support, and not incarceration, for loved ones struggling with addiction and susceptible to engaging in a life of crime.

“We’re going to be a team for each person in the LEAD program,” she said as she looked at Minardi, and then at the rest of those gathered for the night’s meeting.

Minardi said that the LEAD program is scheduled to start in the Hill North, Hill South, and Downtown neighborhoods in the first week of November. Murphy will be the community liaison for Hill North, and two other local residents have been hired to be the community liaisons for Hill South and Downtown. One employee from the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center and one from Columbus House will also serve as case workers for the city’s LEAD program.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 11, 2017  4:11pm

It appears that New Haven is not following the Seattle model which established a community based coalition to select service providers and design the LEAD program itself.
  Many people who participated in the early planning (I was one), expressed concern that the City would co-opt the LEAD program and make it another politically driven fiefdom.
  After months of silence, the City has dropped its own version of LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) on our heads.
  It will be interesting to see if this version gets certified.
  This is not a good beginning for a much needed program.

posted by: Peter99 on October 12, 2017  6:09am

I do not want to be cynical, but the city is going to fail because it is trying to do a job the parents should be doing. The city is attempting to treat the symptom of a problem instead putting into place a program that treat both the symptom and cause of the problem. Even if the city achieves some success, it will have a never ending supply of clients which means an ongoing taxpayer funded program. It is the parents job to instill a system of values into their children, not the city. Parents need to lead and show their children by example how to live drug free productive lives. If the city wants to help, how about a full court press in the schools and the media promoting the job of a parent. Let us get the message out the parents need to do their job, and that babies should not be having babies. Stigmatize boys and males that call themselves men who are nothing more than sperm donors. Identify these sperm donors through DNA and make them support their offspring. make them think twice before they impregnate young girls by making them pay support. Science through DNA can identify these sperm donors similar to the way it is used to find rapists and criminals, even if the mother refuses to identify them. Teach young girls that unprotected sex forever alters their lives. Stamp out the problem through education and enforcement. Do not treat just the symptom of the real problem.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 12, 2017  9:06am

@Peter99: Read this and tell me if the problem is parents failing to instill values in their children: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

The reality is that people of color have been victimized for centuries and white people have stacked the game in their own favor.

Beneficiaries of White Privilege have a totally different experience and should be reluctant to lecture others.

posted by: Peter99 on October 12, 2017  7:52pm

@Dwightstreeter : I am not trying to lecture anyone, nor am I denying that slavery and victimization took place in a lot of places including the south in the good old USA. That was a long time ago, and if you choose to say we can not escape the past then we as a people are forever doomed to be second class citizens who live in the shadows and feel sorry for ourselves. This is 2017 and we have had a black man elected president of the United States for two terms. Like any ethnic group we have good and bad folks. Some of us, a minority of the majority of black folks also have not instilled in our children a burning desire to succeed. Don’t keep looking back for excuses. We have access to a lot of tools that can radically change society now and in the future. We need to educate our kids and get them to adulthood with all their options open. No police record, no babies before obtaining a high school diploma at a minimum and a good job or trade which they have earned through their hard work. Blame the past for failure to succeed if you must, but don’t tell me my vision for the future is not possible. Try telling Barak Obama, Colin Powell, Susan Rice or a score of others you can’t succeed even if you work hard. It can be done, but we must take the responsibility to do the work to make it happen.

posted by: HillNorth on October 13, 2017  8:36pm

Having lived in Hill North for 2.5 years now I am sure this program will not reap the rewards everyone would like to see. This negative outcome is certain primarily because this is and will continue to be a political endeavor. Those involved are appointed with little to no formal education or training. That’s #1. The other glaring reason this will not succeed in Hill North is the residents themselves. This area is overrun with parasites, it is like living in an adult day care. When a woman is allowed to live with her convicted felon boyfriend AND 4 kids, smoke weed obsessively, live on Welfare and operate a drug factory in the Section 8 property, there is no hope of redemption. Good people are terrorized here. Good people are jeered at, assaulted and living from day to day is a nightmare. If we were wealthy or on Welfare, we would have been out of here yesterday. A colleague of mine said it best when he said, when I look at Hill North, those medical buildings YNHH wants to build are looking better all the time.  The quicker Hill North is buried under a medical complex the better this city will be.

posted by: wendy1 on October 13, 2017  8:50pm

I have approached some of our officers personally.  I care about their welfare as much as the homeless I deal with like MC.  I dont want them to have to waste man hours and paperwork on piddly stuff which I realize the city and their bosses require of them.  Frontline police need to have more of a say in their work and I read that in a police textbook years ago.  I and other New Havenites want to decriminalize sex work, vagrancy, loitering, beer in public, etc.  Those arrested are too poor to pay fines and too ill for jail. I wrote a letter to a Yale public health prof (ignored so far) asking for help with lice and scabies issues rampant here…and of course I am begging for subsidized housing ASAP as cold weather approaches.  This is all doable by us, the city, and it is in our best interest long and short run.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 16, 2017  8:16am

@Peter: You didn’t read the article. Racism and discrimination are ongoing. Do not lecture people about their failures until you know your history.
  FYI, Obama grew up in Hawaii and spent time in other countries. Colin Powell did not grow up in the US.
  White oppression for 350 years has damaged Africans and their descendants, along with indigenous peoples and those from South American countries.
  Ignorance is no defense to your unwillingness to learn some history and humility.

posted by: Peter99 on October 17, 2017  11:19am

@Dwightstreeter: Facts and historical facts cannot be changed just because you do not like them. I choose to not wear the chains of the past, nor limit my life and my goals. I state my opinions like everyone else on this forum. I am, however, careful about what are the facts versus what is my opinion. If you doubt what follows, look it up.

Colin Powell was born in New York City in 1937 and was raised in the South Bronx. His parents, Luther and Maud Powell, immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Powell was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from the City College of New York (CCNY), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 17, 2017  12:11pm

@Peter99. I stand corrected as to Powell’s upbringing.
The point I was making is that people of color who do not grow up in the US mainland do not suffer the same effects of racism and indignities inflicted on people of color from day one and from the beginning of US history. The health problems affecting people of color and attributable to racism are well documented.
People who come to the US with their cultural identity and families intact, as did Powell, as do many Latinos, arrive with a sense of self and community that was taken away from the descendants of the enslaved Africans. For every Colin Powell, how many people of equal talent never have the opportunity to develop their talents?
Whites have inflicted a lot of damage on people of color, but still won’t admit it, much less try to repair it. That’s why I repeatedly refer people to Ta Nehisi Coates’ well documented article re: the need for reparations.
Yale held a ceremony for the renaming of Calhoun to Hopper, but failed to acknowledge the role of the people of New Haven in protesting for years. Corey Menafee, the hospitality worker who lost his job and was arrested for a felony - all of which was resolved in his favor - was not invited to the ceremony.
Fortunately Katie Couric’s interview with him will run next Spring on National Geographic and the whole story will be told, not just the portion that Yale chooses to write in which Yale alone made the change.
You wrote about discrimination as if it had ended and that is simply not true.
You can continue to blame those who are victimized for their failure to thrive or you can admit the deck is stacked against some people and that is not right.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 17, 2017  12:18pm

@Peter99: Read Coates and then we can talk.
  One success story does not make up for the casualties from Nixon’s bogus war on drugs, mass incarceration or exploited labor under the 13th Amendment.
  How you feel about yourself and your opportunities is personal.
  What other people encounter is objective.

posted by: Peter99 on October 17, 2017  1:36pm

@ Dwightstreeter: All points presented are valid and well taken. There is no question that the deck was and has been stacked against people of color. We need to understand the root causes that resulted in the problems seen today in our community. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is the lack of a male authority figure in 80% of our homes. Buying and selling our people like a commodity caused this problem. Our young men need this structure and example in their daily lives. I managed to overcome this problem, but I will also agree that there are many who cannot, and will fall prey to the temptations of the street. There are no surrogates or substitutes for a father figure. Clergy, teachers and others may try but they are not a constant presence. I wish I had the magic answer that would change the thought process that results in our mothers and grandmothers being the authority figure in the house. I do not. All I can say is we need to keep trying. I do not think payoffs, handouts or pandering politicians looking for votes every two or four years are the answer. These are my last thoughts. Peace brother.