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Facing anti-violence cuts, Brighton Park proposes a community plan

Kelly High School’s auditorium was packed Wednesday night by residents of Brighton Park – the neighborhood where a 13-year-old boy was shot on his front porch while shielding a friend earlier this month – supporting a community anti-violence plan in the face of drastic cuts to programs they say have been working.

“Violence is up in Brighton Park, but it’s not up as much as elsewhere,” said Patrick Brosnan of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.  In nearby Chicago Lawn, killings are up 150 percent, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“The gang issue has gotten more complicated this year,” Brosnan said.  “There are a lot of fights, a lot of shootings.”  This spring there was an average of a shooting each week, according to The Gate.  But BPNC’s youth programs have a lot of success stories, Brosnan said.

State Representative Dan Burke and other officials pledged to help BPNC secure funding from the state for youth leadership and mentoring programs, parent patrols, school-based counseling, and gang intervention programs.

Budget cut in half

Most of those programs are currently funded through two state programs.  The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative provides jobs for 80 young people as peer mentors and 50 parents mentors in each of 20 Chicago communities, and the Safety Net Works program supports existing youth services, including school-based counseling and crisis intervention, to collaborate on broad anti-violence efforts.

But the $30 million funding for the two programs was eliminated in the new state budget.  It was replaced by a $15 million allocation to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Agency for community-based violence prevention efforts.

Organizations participating in the two programs are pressing to keep existing programs operating, said Chris Patterson, NRI coordinator at Organization of the Northeast in Uptown.  “How do you cover 20 communities with half the funding?” he said.

BPNC proposed a plan which would step up programs, including new money to bring CeaseFire to the community.

A better path

The group’s youth programming is “very effective,” said Esteban Salazar, who will be a senior at Kelly this fall.  Before getting involved, “I was on a bad path,” he said.  “I was hanging around with gangs, hanging around with crews, involved with drugs and alcohol, doing violence.”

He’s left all those things behind, and he now plans to study auto mechanics for a year after graduating high school, then go to college for mechanical engineering.

Read the rest of this entry »

A community platform to stop violence

Violence is up in Chicago, but community leaders say prevention works and deserves support.

Hundreds of residents of Rogers Park and Uptown will attend the unveiling of a comprehensive violence prevention platform by the Organization of the North East on Monday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth.

“We cannot end violence and crime with policing and law enforcement,” according to the platform. “We must address the root causes of violence by employing multiple strategies that build community, support positive youth development, prevent the negative influence of poverty and racism, and provide development-focused interventions when youth make choices that will have a negative impact on their lives.”

Speakers will include young people who have been helped by community programs and CeaseFire interrupters and clients.  “There’s a lot of good work being done that needs to be continued,” said ONE executive director Joe Damal.

Students who have been inappropriately suspended will discuss the need for school discipline reform.  ONE is part of the High Hopes Campaign, which calls for implementing restorative justice practices to reduce suspensions and expulsions in CPS.

‘The Interrupters’ on WTTW

If you missed “The Interrupters” in the theaters, or want to see it again, the documentary (covering the work of three violence interrupters with Chicago’s CeaseFire) will be broadcast on Frontline on WTTW Channel 11 on Tuesday, February 14, at 8 p.m. and Friday, February 17, at 10 p.m.

Sneak Preview: ‘The Interrupters’

There’s lots of buzz for “The Interruptors,” which premiered in January at the Sundance Festival and has already won a slew of awards.  It opens nationwide this summer starting in New York on Friday, and the press is invited to cover a private, invitation-only “friends and family” VIP Preview on Wednesday, July 27 at 6 p.m. at ICE Theater Chatham 14, 210 W. 87th.

The film will open at the Siskel Film Center on August 12 and at ICE theaters in Chatham and Lawndale on August 26.  It tells the story of three “violence interrupters” who work for CeaseFire, following them as they defuse tense situations and showing us their own personal stories and the relationships they develop in the course of their work.

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War on Drugs: 40 years of failure?

Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle will speak at a rally Friday to “end the war on drugs” – while the White House steps up efforts to defend its drug policies in the face of growing criticism.

A broad coalition of civil rights, health, policy, faith, community and student groups will hold a Rally to End the War on Drugs on Friday, June 17 at noon at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Dearborn.   It’s the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs.

Participants cite the racially discriminatory impact of the nation’s drug policies – they’ve been recently tagged “the new Jim Crow”– and the expense and inefficiency of addressing health disorders through the criminal justice system, while support for treatment lags.

Meanwhile the White House released a report showing that Cook County leads the nation in the proportion of individuals testing positive for drugs following their arrest.  Read the rest of this entry »

Nonprofit heroes

Newstips: Youth Communication Chicago executive director works without salary for two years — Southtown Star: laid off employees of Beverly Arts Center return as volunteers — Newstips: the director of Ceasefire’s Roseland office has kept working since funding was shut off by the state in August 2007, and he’s still hanging on — while funding that was restored in July has still not been released.

Roseland CeaseFire awaits funding

Bob Jackson has kept CeaseFire’s Roseland office open since August of 2007, when he and his staff of 15 outreach workers were laid off after Governor Blagojevich vetoed $6.5 million in state funds for the violence prevention program.

He’s paid rent and utilities, mainly out of his pocket, running a one-person office on West 111th Street, with assistance from some former CeaseFire workers and community members who volunteer when they can. But it’s a far cry from working with a full staff — and he’s watched violence rates go back up with frustration.

Now he says the office is too far in debt, the landlord has given his final extension, and they’re going to have to close down.

Meanwhile state funding was restored in July — it just hasn’t been released to the organization yet, said Tio Hardiman of CeaseFire Chicago. He said he couldn’t account for the four-month holdup, but hopes the funding will be forthcoming soon.

In 2004 a major new state appropriation allowed CeaseFire to triple the number of communities it served with public education campaigns, intensive work with the most at-risk youth, and street workers intervening to prevent violence.

A Northwestern University study (pdf) found decreases in shootings and homicides as high as 24 percent in areas served by CeaseFire compared to comparable communities without the group’s presence. Blagojevich’s veto forced the closing of 16 CeaseFire sites in the city and others from East St. Louis to Waukegan.

But Jackson wouldn’t quit. The Roseland office was one of the most successful, he says. Home to the two police beats with the highest rates of shootings and homicides in the city, the staff started bringing those numbers down in the nine months they operated before the layoffs, Jackson said. Since the loss of full-scale operations, the number of shootings has gone up by 68 percent in those two beats, he said.

“They were able to get [violence] down when nobody else could,” Hardiman said of the Roseland office. There are other agencies, but when they go home at night, “we’re working with these guys on the street at two in the morning….

“We were working with a hundred high-risk youth in that community regularly — I mean every day,” he said. “That’s how you get shootings and homicides down.”

Jackson still gets calls from principals and relatives of victims of violence. “How can you tell them no?” he said. He keeps the office open and talks to kids on the street and in schools. Family members asked him to help mobilize an anti-violence rally next Wednesday at 63rd and Laflin, where the shooting death of two teens on November 6 pushed the city’s homicide rate over last year’s.

“It’s very frustrating because we were making a difference,” he said. “This is bigger than politics. Lives are more important than politics.”

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