A retired police chief and an ex–gang member have teamed up to address dozens of school assemblies in New York and New Jersey. Their message to young people: forgive. Plough asked them to reflect on their unlikely friendship – one all the more striking in a year when police shootings and #BlackLivesMatter continue to make headlines.

Plough: How come a former cop and a former gang member are on speaking terms?

Charles Williams: Clearly we used to be enemies on different ends of the gun, even if we didn’t know each other. As a young officer with the New York City Housing Authority police department in the 1980s, I was assigned to patrol in the South Bronx just when the crack epidemic hit. My job was to restore or keep peace, while Hashim, with all due respect, was out to cause havoc and chaos. Had we crossed paths back then, we both would have pulled our guns. And if one of us had made the wrong move, there’s a good chance we could have killed each other.

Even as I say that now, I get emotional because the man sitting next to me is my brother, my best friend. How did we get here? Hashim and I are very different, but we have at least two things in common: we’re both human beings, and we’ve both experienced the power of forgiveness.

Hashim, what’s the story from your side?

Hashim Garrett: I grew up in Brooklyn. After my parents separated, I lived with my mother and her boyfriend, who had a drinking problem. While under the influence, he would become abusive and would bang on the metal door of our home. Hearing him, I would lie on the floor of my room crying and praying: “Dear God, please make him stop, in Jesus Christ’s name” – even though I was born Muslim.