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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Violence Prevention, Large and Small Scale

Obviously there's been a lot of buzz in Chicago lately about youth and gang-related violence. It's ironic to me that all these people, including the Mayor, are crying about what to do, when they know something about what to do and its funding was cut.

I refer to Project CeaseFire, a public health initiative out of the University of Illinois Chicago that has been working since 1995 to reduce street shootings. On the web site, the history runs through 2006, when CeaseFire was established or getting started in 15 Chicago neighborhoods, plus other sites around Illinois.

What the site doesn't mention is that CeaseFire itself became a victim of the budget shootout in Springfield last summer. The agency lost $6 million in state money, which cut 140 violence prevention workers. This ABC story gives details. Although some alternate monies were found and some of those people even kept on working for free (I heard), getting the work done became a lot harder.

CeaseFire's executive director, Tio Hardiman, hit the crux of the problem on the head in an MSNBC story about the current wave of shootings and efforts to stop the violence. To stop shootings, he said, petty arguments have to be resolved quickly and peacefully. "There's really a dire need for more conflict resolution training."

That's the big scale. On the small scale, Thursday afternoon I happened to be inside the Chavez Upper Grade Center right around dismissal, at 1:45 p.m. One of Joey's teachers had offered to give him a ride to his first class of the new session at Marwen, so I went to confirm arrangements. After we were done, I came outside and found one of the girls from the next block up from my house waiting around for her brother. We agreed to walk home together.

Her brother came out with a big gaggle of other boys. His sister and I talked about school--she's learning about Native Americans and she and her classmates are rehearsing for a performance of Native American stories. We got about half a block ahead of the guys. I, being a clueless adult, was pretty focused on our conversation. She, being a smart kid, kept slowing down and making sure we weren't too far ahead of her brother and the boys I took to be his friends.

When we got south of the viaduct on Hermitage, their noise reached a new height and intensity. We stopped and turned around to find them forming the classic fight circle and saw her brother putting his books down and handing off his jacket.

She and I took off running. I was still in a skirt and heeled boots from being downtown that morning, so I must have looked pretty funny galumphing toward them and hollering, "Hey! What are you doing? Cut that out!" The northern half of the ring turned and ran back past the viaduct, disappearing from sight.

Fortunately, we got there before anybody took a swing. Her brother told me those boys had been bothering him all day long in school and everybody had been waiting to get out of there so they could settle it on the street. I tried to ask him if he thought it was over or if the problem would be back tomorrow, but it started to rain harder and he ran for his house's front door.

"Thanks for walking with us," his sister said.

I think about this and I think about a question I asked the Marshfield Avenue boxers one day as we were walking to Medicine Man's car. Peter Pan was bragging to me and the two or three other guys present about how the oldest Brady boy had just won a fight. I asked all of them, including Big Brady, if they knew other ways to settle an argument besides fighting. They all said no.

"Would you like to learn some?" I asked. Peter Pan looked at me with the classic "how sissy is that!?" kind of expression. Joey didn't say anything. Big Brady Boy actually said yes.

If anybody knows of some big tough guys who teach conflict resolution skills to preteen boys, send them my way, would you? Or maybe we just need to get back to boxing. I trust those guys to teach my neighbors how to save their punches for the ring.

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