As the national conversation around gun control continues to grow, many Americans have wondered whether or not there is possible solution to ending gun violence. Chicago has been spotlighted as one of the deadliest cities in the nation, with a record of 513 homicides within the year of 2012 alone. One activist believes that the way to solve the swelling issues with street violence is by transforming past offenders into future teachers for troubled communities.
Tio Hardiman is the director of CeaseFire Illinois and founder of the Violence Interrupter Initiative. Through the CeaseFire program, Hardiman sends out ex-convicts, former gang members, and reformed drug dealers into trouble-ridden communities to detect violence, mediate issues, and prevent future killings. Chicago, a city that has long been plagued by minority and youth violence, is among the emerging sites for the program.
“Violence has become acceptable in Chicago,” Hardiman told NewsOne in an interview. “ We have to get that segment of the population to say, ‘Violence should not be acceptable. We’re not giving in to that anymore. It has to stop.’”
The “interrupters” that Hardiman hires are able to infiltrate borders in these communities and lend a helping hand to stopping violence because they too can relate with the angry gun-wielding youth. They too know the pain and frustration that can turn minor spats into a major loss of life. By using past experiences and street knowledge, Hardmian’s workers help prevent violence by working on the dangerous frontlines of Chicago’s most distressed neighborhoods.
The question is can this type of program — where ex-offenders band together to create some peace — work in other troubled communities across the country?
In Chicago, the answer is shaky and remains uncertain. Chicago Police have been wary about the program’s success in dealing with street conflicts.
“It’s a work in progress,” police superintendent Garry McCarthy told USA Today. “It hasn’t shown a lot of success yet.”
“We’ve been up and running with new programs in the Woodlawn and North Lawndale communities since late September,” he said. “They’ve only been up and running for about a good three months, but we’re pretty much breaking even in both of those communities. But I see a lot of room for improvement as we keep moving forward. Right now I have nothing but positive things to say.”
In 2012, Ceasefire’s outreach workers helped 1,123 high-risk individuals. They interrupted and mediated 745 conflicts.
Although Hardiman’s program shows promise, the program director says that reducing crime and gun violence cannot be one hopeful activist’s burden alone — it’s the responsibility of the entire community. “It’s not just the police department or the city and people living in the tough neighborhoods,” he said. “We all have to band together to help reduce this crime out here.”
CeaseFire was featured in the 2011 documentary, The Interrupters. Watch how they do their work: