How CeaseFire Outreach Workers Attack Chicago Gang Violence


Marnell Brown, a former gang member who spent much of his adulthood in prison, works on some of Chicago’s most ruthless streets, steering young men away from violence and toward jobs, schools, drug treatment, and more stable lives, says the Christian Science Monitor. At times he and his colleagues try to restrain agitated, angry, and often drug-addled youths from the kind of retaliatory violence that characterizes much gang conflict. Gang-related killings soared from the 1970s until the mid-1990s and has remained high ever since. “A lot of communities are really trying to do something about it, but they don’t know what to do,” says Jeremy Wilson of the RAND Corp.’s Center for Quality Policing.

The Chicago Project for Violence Prevention and its antiviolence campaign, CeaseFire, based at the University of Illinois’s Department of Public Health, treats gun violence as a public health problem and fights it by trying to change individual behavior and community norms. Working mainly in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago and its suburbs, CeaseFire promotes nonviolence with such things as leaflets, bumper stickers, and signs announcing how many days have passed since the last shooting. A Northwestern University study released this month concludes that CeaseFire has reduced gun violence in many Chicago neighborhoods. The study says outreach workers have been especially effective in befriending young gang members. “After their parents, the outreach workers were named as the most important people in their lives,” says Wesley Skogan, the lead researcher.


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