Beating the Bullets in Chicago Liveshots
Beating the Bullets in Chicago
May 7, 2010 - 2:45 PM | by: Michael Tobin
The code of the mean streets on Chicago’s West and South sides dictates that disputes quickly escalate to gun battles. With rage-filled, sloppy gun handling and little thought about unintended targets, the gun battles produce new victims. That produces new disputes, calls for revenge and causes violence to spread like a virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says murder has been the leading cause of death among African American Men between the ages of 15 and 34 for a quarter of a century.
The laws police are tasked with enforcing deal with crimes after they happen. For prevention they try things like gun buy backs. In Chicago a total of 1908 weapons were turned over to police last year. Critics say there is no evidence that gun buybacks work. Jodi Weis the Superintendent of Chicago’s Police force told me he is very well aware that the young gang member, hell bent on revenge, is not the one who turns over his weapon for a $50 dollar gift card. “It’s hard to measure prevention,” says Weiss. “But if we can get weapons taken out of a house, at least they can’t be stolen from that house, a child cannot get his hands on that gun.”
Although understaffed, Superintendent Weis is focusing his police force in the hot spots of gang violence. “Violence occurs in less than nine percent of city blocks. Less than nine percent of the real estate in Chicago contains all the homicides and shootings in 2009. To Pinpoint where crime is occurring. We can saturate those smaller areas and put more officers in those areas.”
That still leaves Police with two major obstacles: acting before a law has been broken and breaking the “code of silence” that prevents people in the violent neighborhoods from telling police of the shooting plots that are brewing.
This is where police are getting help on the street from the people of the street. Many of them were convicted and served time for violent crimes. They work for an organization boasting success in America’s cities; Cease Fire.
“Jamie” a moniker she asked to be called, is one of the people dispatched to by Cease Fire called ‘Violence Interrupters.’ With tattoos showing, high heels, sparkling Jewelry and her nails painted school bus yellow she explained to me the advantage of being from the very streets on which she is trying to prevent violence. “We have intimate knowledge of our neighborhood. We have intimate knowledge of those we deal with. That’s why we are so successful.” She stresses however that violence interrupters are not an extension of the Police. They don’t enforce laws. They don’t report what they know to the investigators. Marnell Brown, a violence interrupter who has been to prison 8 times, tells me that is how they break the code of silence so respected in the violent areas. “They are afraid to talk to the Police,” Says Brown. “Some are angry at CPD. Some are afraid something bad might happen to them. But they will talk to us.”
That’s how they learn when a new revenge plot has been hatched. They head for the individuals with only the goal of mediating a peaceful resolution. “Jamie” and another violence interrupter, Ameena Matthews, explained to me the simple mediation technique. They just need to create a solution that allows people on either side of the dispute to back down without looking weak. “Our goal as women violence interrupters is to get inside the heads of the guys so they won’t shoot first,” says Matthews. Cease Fire claims to have talked down over one hundred revenge shootings in the past year. That, “Jamie” says, is how you can measure prevention. “People have stayed out of trouble and they’re not shooting back and fourth.”