Early this year, violence prevention groups set an ambitious goal for Chicago — a 20% reduction in murders compared to 2019.
At a big, festive event in January, organizers said the “challenge” gave them “tremendous hope.”
But almost halfway through the year, the city is actually on pace for a 12% increase in murders and a 20% increase in shootings.
Now, those violence prevention organizations are looking to Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer, as a chance to start turning the tide.
“Memorial Day weekend … we’ve historically seen rises in shootings and killings,” said Jalon Arthur, the director of strategic initiatives for the anti-violence group Chicago CRED. “And by it being the start of the summer, it could actually help set a tone for what we can expect throughout the summer.”
That’s why CRED, which tries to get jobs for the people closest to Chicago gun violence, and seven other organizations are partnering this weekend to pay more than 400 street outreach workers to flood so-called “hot spots” where they believe there is a high likelihood for violence.
Those workers will be mediating street conflicts, offering services to at-risk individuals and encouraging people to stay inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last year over the Memorial Day weekend, nearly 40 people were shot and five were killed in Chicago.
“You do have places based upon data, based upon conversations with the police, based upon conversations with our outreach workers, that are particularly violent. And having our young men and women help to reduce violence in those neighborhoods, to help to mediate conflicts, we think is extraordinarily important,” said former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who leads Chicago CRED.
The goal this year is to “get as close to zero shootings” as possible.
“We still have a long, long way to go here in Chicago,” Duncan said. “Our goal this year was to try to achieve a 20% reduction in violence. And the first quarter … unfortunately, we went the wrong direction.”
Norman Kerr, director of the mayor’s office of violence prevention, said the city is partnering with the anti-violence groups to aid in their efforts over the weekend.
“We've shifted away from a law enforcement first and only effort,” Kerr said. “We are putting tools directly into the hands of our community-based street outreach workers who every day utilize deescalation skills to interrupt violence, prevent retaliation and build positive relationships with those who are at the highest risk of violence.”
As part of that collaboration, the city has created a “violence reduction dashboard,” which Kerr said provides “real-time” crime data to city agencies and street outreach organizations that they can use to decide where to concentrate resources.
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said the goals of the anti-violence groups, which are often staffed by former gang members, “mirror” the mission of CPD, and he welcomed their help.
“That's how we're going to reduce violence. It will be a group effort,” Brown said. “Memorial Day did not sneak up on us. CPD is prepared to safeguard this city and we will do it together.”
Arthur, from Chicago CRED, said their efforts will not be “defined by one weekend,” but he said the groups are still striving for a reduction in gun violence and eager to see results from all their hard work.
“We still have half of the year left, and we … have a real opportunity to course correct and get back on track,” Arthur said.
Vaughn Bryant, executive director of Communities Partnering 4 Peace, said he believes the “hot spot” strategy, which the organizations plan to extend through the summer, will help contain the surge in violence that typically occurs in the warm weather months.
Bryant said he will keep believing a 20% reduction in violence is possible this year.
“We're going to keep doing this work, and at some point we are going to reach a tipping point and we're going to get some momentum and guys are going to start to see their peers have some success and they're going to start moving more quickly because they see people next to them doing something different,” Bryant said about efforts to get guys off the street and into legitimate jobs. “And we're going to continue to work tirelessly until that happens.”