By Mark Obbie, Solutions Specialist
As discussions over defunding police departments and alternatives to police become more popular, so does one of the most common counterarguments: "What about violence?" The type of interpersonal violence that claims the most victims is gun violence on city streets. It's also the source of much alarmist news coverage, along with politically and racially driven notions of what causes such violence and what can be done about it. As it turns out, one of the most promising approaches to reducing street violence is work that's done with little or no involvement of the police, thanks to a growing roster of cities investing in the work.
This approach goes by a number of names, including street outreach or violence interruption. It is a community-based solution, meaning the work is done by community members instead of police. And it narrowly targets the relatively small numbers of people responsible for a disproportionate share of community violence. The leading organization behind this model, Cure Violence, was founded in Chicago by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who took what he learned about halting the spread of infectious diseases and applied it to the spread of community violence and whose work gained notoriety with a startlingly intimate portrait of three of his outreach workers in the 2012 documentary The Interrupters.
While the approach has compiled a mixed record of effectiveness, the number of studies supporting its effectiveness continues to grow, particularly when the work is paired with other evidence-based violence interventions and when it is sustained through persistence and adequate resources. While the strongest evidence of effective anti-violence interventions still argues for keeping particular policing strategies in the mix, violence interrupters have earned a prominent place at the table.
- Who counts as a credible messenger? What makes these individuals effective?
- Who is most likely to engage in gun violence? What are some situations that commonly result in shootings?
- How has Cure Violence impacted violent crime rates in Chicago?
- Do the articles in this collection fit into any of the SJN Success Factors? Explain your response.
- Listen to the short podcast linked in this collection. What are the differences and similarities in the interventions aimed at common perpetrators of violence versus the children impacted by violence?
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- Credible messengers are individuals with with personal experience of the criminal-justice system, typically their own criminal record, who now have unique legitimacy to help others in a similar position. Their common background in gangs and prisons lends them the street credibility they need to learn about likely acts of violence before they occur; to de-escalate these conflicts through mediation strategies; and to act as caseworkers to connect people at risk of violence (either as likely shooters or victims, often both) to the social services and counseling that will reduce their risk.
- Young men are most likely to engage in gun violence, often men between 19-24 years old. Shootings often occur after a man has lost a fight and feels the need to resort to gun violence to "save face," or repair his reputation. Similar actions might be taken after offensive claims, photos, or videos are posted on social media.
- While the research is not complete, Cure Violence seems to reduce shootings in areas where it is implemented. In Chicago, murder rates fall when Cure Violence is well-funded and jump when the program lapses. Further research in New York found that shootings declined much more in Cure Violence neighborhoods than in comparable areas without the program, as did social support for the use of guns to solve disputes.
- Violence interrupters can be discussed as examples of attacking root causes, empowering people, and embracing the power of relationships.
- Both types of interventions hinge on building trust with the target population, but adults are better able to discuss what their needs and issues are; teachers must observe and interpret potential warning signs for children during these unusual pandemic conditions.