Even as homicide rates have declined across the U.S., gunplay plagues economically struggling minority communities. For 25 years, murder has been the leading cause of death among African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34. The New York Times says a growing school of thought suggests that there's little we can do about entrenched urban poverty if the relentless pattern of street violence isn't broken. The CeaseFire program in Chicago doesn't necessarily aim to get people out of gangs – nor interrupt the drug trade. It focuses on one thing: preventing shootings. CeaseFire's founder, Gary Slutkin, is an epidemiologist and physician who battled infectious diseases in Africa. He says that violence directly mimics infections like tuberculosis and AIDS, and so, he suggests, the treatment ought to mimic the regimen applied to these diseases: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source.
In public health, there have been two schools of thought on violence. One focuses on environmental factors, trying to limit gun purchases and making guns safer. The other tries to influence behavior by introducing school-based curricula like antidrug and safe-sex campaigns. Slutkin goes after it in a third way – as if he were trying to contain an infectious disease. Last year, CeaseFire lost its $6 million in annual state financing – which meant a reduction from 45 violence “interrupters” to 17. One state senator, who had ordered an audit of CeaseFire maintained there was no evidence that CeaseFire's work had made a difference. In a report due this month, independent researchers hired by the Justice Department conclude that CeaseFire has had an impact. The study found that in six of the seven neighborhoods examined, CeaseFire's efforts reduced the number of shootings or attempted shootings by 16 percent to 27 percent more than it had declined in comparable neighborhoods. Wes Skogan, a professor of political science at Northwestern and the author of the report, said, “I found the statistical results to be as strong as you could hope for.”