By Samuel Williams, Jr.
Last week, the AFRO introduced the concept of violence interrupters in Washington, D.C.’s peacemakers, serving as frontline workers in D.C. neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence using a public health approach to reduce shootings and homicides.
A pilot program started in 2019 by the name “Cure the Streets” (CTS) has served six high-risk areas in D.C. The program documented progress in reducing violent crime between 2020 and 2021.
Gun homicides decreased by 47 percent in the six target areas CTS served from 2020 to 2021, according to data from CTS. Likewise, the CTS target areas experienced a 3 percent decrease in assaults with a deadly weapon opposed to a 16 percent increase in this category of violent crime citywide.
Yet high-ranking city officials remain skeptical that Cure the Streets’ violence interrupters actually made a dent in the violence assaulting D.C.’s high-crime communities.
“I am in total support of the violence interrupters’ efforts here in D.C. But you have to take the CTS statistics with a grain of doubt,” the city official said. “Remember that between 2020 and 2021, our city was dealing with a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, the mayor issued a decree that citizens had to be home at a certain time. It could have been a factor in those low numbers.”
Yet in Chicago, where the violence interrupter concept was conceived, there were similar hopeful results. Originally developed under the name “CeaseFire” in 2000, U.S. Epidemiologist Gary Slutkin launched the model in West Garfield, Chicago’s most violent community at the time.
During CeaseFire’s first year, shootings dropped by 67 percent. CeaseFire received additional funding from the State of Illinois in 2004 to expand the program from five to 15 communities and from 20 to 80 outreach workers.
A three-year evaluation of the Chicago program by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009 found the rate of violent gun use and homicides decreased. Shooting “hot spots,” geographic and historical areas where gun violence is most likely to occur, diminished in size and intensity. Retaliatory murders were eliminated.
“A striking finding was how important CeaseFire loomed in their lives,” stated the authors of the U.S. Justice Evaluation of Project Ceasefire.
“Clients noted the importance of being able to reach their outreach worker at critical moments—when they were tempted to resume taking drugs, were involved in illegal activities, or when they felt that violence was imminent,” the report stated.
The Justice Department’s lead evaluator for the CeaseFire report commented, “I found the statistical results to be as strong as you could hope for.”
Lashonia Thompson-El, who serves as interim director for the D.C. Peace Academy, said the primary goal is to lower violent outbreaks in the city. However, their organization would also focus on promoting healing for all the parties affected by gun violence.
“Gun violence causes long-lasting trauma stress on people who are victims of the violence, the families who lost loved ones taken by gun violence, and those who hear gunfire near their home, school or work,” Thompson-El said. “We are training to provide relief in this area as well.”
In July 2021, senior White House staff established The White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVI) a 16-jurisdiction cohort of mayors, law enforcement, CVI experts, and philanthropic leaders committed to using American Rescue Plan funding or other public funding to increase investment in their community violence intervention infrastructure. Washington, D.C. and Baltimore are two of the 16 jurisdictions represented on the White House CVI Collaborative. The AFRO will continue to bring you updates throughout the summer on the work of this group of cities in using community violence interruption strategies to combat violence.
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