Philly Truce co-founder Mazzie Casher shares his takeaways as the peace patrols end and winter sets in.

Scene from Operation Hug The Block. (Philly Truce | Mazzie Casher)

Operation Hug The Block was a huge undertaking. Philly Truce, co-founded by Mazzie Casher and Steven Pickens, and community activist Jamal Johnson partnered to peace patrol 77 blocks across Philadelphia most affected by shootings.

It involved direct on-the-ground action, with participants walking each block from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. every night for 77 nights and ending the morning of the general election in Philadelphia. Germantown Info Hub got to speak with Casher to get an overall debrief of the peace patrols and what’s next for the organizers and the project.

Casher and Pickens have been working on Philly Truce since 2020 when homicide numbers and violence rose. It started as a mediation and conflict resolution service app and has since evolved, and as Casher puts it, it now focuses on “sustainable Black manhood.” 

The platform of sustainable Black manhood involves many clear objectives for Philly Truce. It includes zero involvement with the criminal justice system, family court system, and state welfare system and infinite pursuit of self-knowledge, useful education, and ethical financial freedom. They aim to accomplish these objectives through programs like Safe City Boys, peace patrols, and other ways to engage youth and community members. 

There was no better choice than a partnership with Jamal Johnson, known in the community for his direct-action approach to bringing awareness to high rates of gun violence. Johnson has held hunger strikes and has marched many times to push political leaders and others to treat gun violence as a citywide emergency.  

Casher said he and Johnson prepared themselves for the major 77-night commitment and that mental preparation sustained them. But they also had help from Pickens and many regulars, folks, and community leaders who came out throughout the multiple months, even to blocks not close to their neighborhoods—most nights had about ten people come out, most of them Black men. 

Casher explains: “I think if you can commit, everything else will take care of itself. And that’s pretty much how we sustained ourselves. But in terms of just physical repair and rejuvenation, we just figured out some times when we could have a night or two off, Jamal and I as the leads, and the rest were the people who came out that sustained us. The regulars, they really sustained us because there were people you could count on no matter where you went.”

Casher noted that a true sense of kinship and camaraderie was built during the downtime. He said, “We had food, we had music. The downtime between walks was pretty lit, I have to say.”

Casher spoke more about the participation, saying, “And people would be gone for a few days, and they would be like, oh, man, what happened to such and such? And then they would pop right back up, like, man, I got tired, or I had a cold, but I missed you all, and jumped right back in.”

“And on the last night, so many people were like, I’m going to miss this. So we formed a brother and a sisterhood, and we had very rich conversations, very silly conversations, busting on each other, food, [and] music. And we had a lot of fun between walks. I mean, even when we did walk, and we came back to decompress, we’d ask what happened. Where did you all go? How were they? It was like coming backstage from a show. How were they out there? Did you get friction?”  

Seth Anderson-Oberman, a union organizer and community leader in Germantown, made it out to two nights, one in Germantown and another in Kensington, during the 77 nights. 

“There’s this idea that resonates with a lot of people that we need approaches to community safety that are community-led, that aren’t led by the police, that are not kind of carceral in nature,” said Anderson-Oberman. “ I know one of the things that struck me when I was first hearing about this project was the term that they decided to use, which was Hug the Block.”

He continued, “To me, that communicates this idea that we need to show love to each other, and we need to look out for each other and build community where we live. So that’s an attractive idea, and I think a lot of people have been motivated to participate on that basis, and I think that was true as well when I attended in Kensington and also when I attended in my own neighborhood in Germantown.”

One of the takeaways that Casher pointed out was the effective way they could keep the peace patrols community-led and -directed. But there were also surprising and unexpected points of support that came in most significantly with their evolving partnership with police officers. Casher himself was surprised at the level of engagement most officers had as soon as they learned what they were doing. Some officers who were there for longer periods of the process started helping with the night-to-night logistics and became regular helping hands. 

He said, “They were helping us set the tent up, break the tent down, and we got into many personal conversations about politics and sports. So getting to start to dig into that stigma, or that antagonistic shadow between Black men and often white police officers… that was another pleasant surprise and something we should continue to explore and use to our benefit as a city.”

“And we try to stress that to people, like, look, we want them to do this right,” said Casher. “We are just here to temper the situation and also kind of demonstrate that, number one, we are in the lead. We are the architects of this and the way it’s going down. And that’s the kind of relationship we need to start to have with police.” 

Andre Carroll, another community leader born and raised in Germantown, also attended a peace patrol in Germantown. He walked with them on the night at the block of Pastorius and Baynton, nearby Germantown High School, where he attended. 

“Philadelphia is a small, big city, but it’s a big city,” said Caroll. “I definitely think that it is important for community members to recognize that they have the power, they actually have exactly what it takes to continue this and move this forward. And it doesn’t have to stop once Operation Hug The Block leaves this neighborhood. And that’s the hope. That’s the hope that I would love to see.”

The need for peace patrols and for neighbors to feel empowered on their own blocks is exactly what Casher hopes to move forward, and he’s organizing just that as Operation Hug The Block has ended. Moving forward, he hopes to raise funds needed to operationalize the program, which he believes could support many areas of the city. 

One of their plans to operationalize will be creating paid patrol shifts. “So going forward, it’s going to be two shifts, 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., 12 hours of coverage. It’s going to be staffed by justice impacted men. That means they’re going to be sourced from parole and probation and/or as a condition of release from the county or some kind of diversionary program. We’re doing that because that’s restorative, and we’re not going to have to scramble to hire people. I don’t want to use the word mandate. We’re going to make them do it, but we’re going to pay them to do it,” said Casher, explaining the plan. 

Neighbors and leaders who didn’t attend but were interested in the patrols have reached out to him, and he wants folks to know they are working on following up with as many people as possible to try and start these kinds of actions for themselves and their community. 

Cashier admits it’s been slow as the holiday season approaches, but they’ve begun reaching out to folks who have contacted them about peace patrols on their own blocks. Many folks who have reached out don’t want to do the actual patrolling themselves but want to enlist Philly Truce’s help getting people out there. Casher understands their concerns. 

“So in this little interim period, the idea was that we would get the people that expressed interest together, see how many bodies we could pull, and see if we could take turns supporting each other so that somebody doesn’t have to be on their block doing it. So if it’s six of us, five of us will go, you don’t have to do it on your block, but (maybe) you do it on the next block, and that person sits out, or some kind of system like that,” said Casher. 

He continued, “But that was the idea we’re going to explore because we are pressing different government officials– city council and some state reps, and applying for money, so we’re in the process of funding it the way we envision it. But in an attempt to keep the momentum, we wanted to at least engage the people who’ve expressed interest.”
You can visit to learn more about Operation Hug The Block, Philly Truce’s work in general, or how to support or donate to their organization.