What began about a year ago as “100 Fearless Men” has – with the addition of women – evolved into “The Peacemakers,” a group that is making a profound impact in northwest Roanoke. The volunteer group of local residents patrols that troubled part of the city looking to help keep things quiet, especially among youth in the area, in an effort to reduce crime and make residents feel safer.
In recent months The Peacemakers had a transport van donated to them by Goodwill Industries of the Valleys; Cuz’s Auto Body shop remodeled it at no cost to the tune of almost $10,000. It’s used now to shuttle members of the group around to various hot spots and events as they keep an eye on things. The Peacemakers coordinates their efforts with the Roanoke police department and will call officers in where necessary to take it to the next level.
Their leader is Shawn Hunter, who helped ex-felons find jobs at TAP, then worked with an organization called Community Cultivators before creating The Peacemakers. Some have criticized Hunter for his background as an ex-felon convicted on a sexual assault charge – despite the fact that his registration as a sex offender is public knowledge and no doubt the police, Goodwill etc. were aware of that in choosing to work with Hunter after he had served his time in jail.
So Hunter took the bull by the horns recently and gave his perspective on Facebook about the charges and his conviction when he was a young man – saying it was a crime he did not commit. Hunter said he took a plea deal to spare his mother from a trial – she was sick with cancer – a decision he said he would not repeat if he could go back.
Thinking he might serve four years, instead it wound up being 21… although part of that was because he was “an angry man” in prison and did things that led to sentence extensions. “I’ve always maintained my innocence – but fell victim to being young, poor and ignorant.”
Hunter claims that at 16 he was “with some other guys” at the wrong time and in the wrong place. “[But] I don’t hide behind it. I’m not a sex offender.” Ironically, Hunter also said he “would’ve been dead” if prison hadn’t saved him from the life of crime he was embarking on as a teenager.
He eventually earned a GED in prison and then a business degree from Virginia Western once he finally finished his sentence. Now said Hunter, “I want to inspire other individuals who also may have a criminal background.”
So Hunter and The Peacemakers Inc. soldier on; the non-profit is now partnering with developer (and city councilman) John Garland to remodel a building on 11th Street, looking to turn it into affordable housing and perhaps a commercial space. They have already opened their own headquarters and community center in the old city firehouse at the corner of 24th Street and Melrose Avenue.
“I think we have made a positive impact on the city. We have 25-35 solid members. Our goal is to get out there in the community and show the residents that we love them and care about them,” said Hunter.
“We are not the police and walk a fine line between the community and the police. We have a wonderful relationship with the police. We are out there to serve [northwest residents]. Our ultimate goal is to try and save these young adults from the judicial system – to guide them in a direction that’s going to enhance the quality of their lives.”
See The Peacemakers Facebook page for more on the organization.