Local gang intervention specialist needs your help to create a better future

Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 11:27 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - In light of a recent string of violence over the last week, Richmond County deputies say none of the shootings are related.

However, they do have speculations of gang activity after two teens were shot and killed Monday night.

We’ve shown you board members saying that it is a community issue.

We spoke with a gang intervention specialist who says gang violence has always been an issue, but right now, the ripple effects of a pandemic are part of the problem.

We’re seeing more homeless kids, less oversight, stressed parents, and absent parents. It’s all compounding a problem that was already there.

This is nothing new for Devon Harris, who has been a gang intervention specialist for the last 20 years.

We sat down with him to learn about some of the programs offered to those in the community trying to get back on track.

The Richmond County Judicial Court has various thrive programs that serve nearly 400 juveniles in the Augusta community.

Judge Willie Saunders says the goal is simple, design, redirect and rehabilitate to change the criminal outcome.

Harris says it takes more than just planning and praying to see change.

“It’s a reality. It’s here. This ain’t no third-world country, all right. These things are happening,” he said.

Harris has been around violence his whole life. The retired veteran and pastor has dedicated his life to helping get others back on track.

“These things are happening here, and we can address it from that level. And we won’t have to see more young lives, like an eight-year-old girl loss,” said Harris.

He’s talking about 8-year-old Arbrie Anthony, killed in a drive-by gang shooting in January.

After a violent weekend, he says if young men and women don’t make changes, there will be others.

“This is not going to end overnight. It’s just not going to end,” said Harris.

Harris runs a program he says extends life and survival rates for gang members.

“One Degree At a Time offers that it’s actually taking them 180 degrees to Change the Way You Think and Act in a 10-week process,” he said.

He teaches ten kids at a time who have been court-ordered to be in his program.

“We meet every week, you know, every week, in the afternoon for two hours. We do videos, movies. We have discussion. We have kind of interactive stuff. We talk about a gang that we understand in history,” he said.

Harris says the program has seen a lot of success, but for that success to continue, the community needs to realize what’s going on.

“Come alongside these young fellows, and really don’t preach to them. All right, but come alongside to see where they’re dealing with their deep wounds and address that issue,” said Harris.

It can feel like an overwhelming issue, but it’s one day at a time, one success story at a time.

“He goes, ‘Mr. Devon what we were talking about Thursday, I had to deal with this weekend. Just like that. What you explained it,’ That scenario happened, and I dressed it properly,” he said.

That’s when he knows he’s making a difference. Saunders said all of the programs they have will not do any good until everyone gets involved, but they are working day in and out to create a better future.

“But the problem with this, is there’s only a few of us that are doing this,” said Harris.