6 years ago, Clifford Ryan founded OG's Against Violence. In that time, he says he's saved hundreds of lives, personally intervening to prevent dozens of shootings, over one hundred stabbings, and 1,076 fights.
"It's a challenge to get out there and do this work every day but the work is necessary," said Ryan.
It's challenging work, but Ryan almost makes it sound simple. For him, saving lives begins by simply taking a walk - engaging with neighbors, mentoring kids, and keeping an eye out for red flags.
At the first sign of a weapon or the possibility of violent escalation, Ryan physically puts himself in the middle of those involved. It's then about using his words with each side - calming everyone down, reminding everyone of the stakes involved. He did it again just last week - preventing a fight between two women at the Magnarelli Rec Center on the Northside, both of whom had brought multiple full cars of family and friends to back them up.
"Understanding the seriousness of the situation and having another adult there to point out those ramifications is very important, that's violence interruption," said Ryan, "you don't know what the other family has weapon-wise. That whole situation could turn into a situation where someone loses their life. people take that for granted."
He does this work in the memory of his son - shot and killed in Syracuse at the age of 17 in 1999. So far, he's been operating essentially by himself. You'll find OG's Against Violence banners and pins all over the city, and you'd be hardpressed to find those in Syracuse that don't know him or don't support his work.
Still, he operates as a one-man band, and any financial necessities have come out of his own pocket, donations, or one-time government grants. He's been asking City of Syracuse and Onondaga County officials for help with funding for the past 6 years, saying his "boots on the ground" methods are worth government attention if they truly want to solve the violence problem in Syracuse.
"I didn't get discouraged, because it's taken this long. I can't afford to get discouraged," said Ryan.
He may not have to wait too much longer.
On Tuesday, Onondaga County Legislator Mary Kuhn introduced an amendment to the proposed 2022 county budget, calling for $200,000 in funding to go towards Ryan's new 501(c)3 nonprofit "Violence Interrupters Training Program".
Kuhn was the one to make the call to Ryan to see what the legislature could do, a call he said was very encouraging.
The Democrat representing the county's 7th district, covering Dewitt and parts of Syracuse, said the money could be used to help Ryan's goal of training and hiring others to do the kind of work he does each day.
"It's essentially taking people from the neighborhood to be able to enhance in the street to learn about issues of violence, what violence interruption is about, and the nature of trauma in this community," said Kuhn.
Other legislators were interested, but ultimately said they were not ready to include the funding in the budget. Republican Majority leader Brian May and fellow Republican legislator James Rowley both wanted to learn more from Ryan directly, as well as take questions to local law enforcement agencies and criminal justice experts.
"I'm not afraid to ask for new money for a project like this if it comes down to it, I just want to learn more," said May, representing the county's 1st legislative district.
Kuhn's opponent in the 2021 election, Syracuse Common Councilor Joe Carni, told CNY Central he is a big fan of Ryan's work and has collaborated with OG's Against Violence in the past. He said he's eager to look at the details of this project to see if this is something he would approve of should he join the legislature next year.
Ryan said he'd be more than happy to speak with legislators at the next public safety committee meeting, as the funding was not included in the $1.4 billion budget passed Tuesday. Kuhn pulled the legislation at the suggestion of May on the understanding that this would be evaluated as legislation at a later date.
"I am an expert in doing violence interruption," said Ryan, "the six years of doing the work is the resume."
He said getting other adults out in the street with his skills would expand the positive impact that OG's Against Violence has already had in Syracuse. He's hoping to train up to fifteen people and get them hired as employees, ready for a staff that can do difficult but life-saving work.
"It could be a huge transformation as far as the organization," said Ryan.