Ceasefire rallies for return of state funding

Review shows organization effective in curbing violence
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut the organization's funding last year, but an outside review of the group released recently found its work led to "significant" declines in violence in neighborhoods across the city.

The review's findings came at the same time that the city of Chicago is dealing with an outbreak in gun violence, which has caused many lawmakers and activists to call on the governor to reinstate the program's funding.

Funding has been restored on limited basis in some communities, but in most places, Ceasefire has shut down completely, unable to pay their outreach workers. The organization claims the data shows that shut down has contributed to a spike in shootings over the last year.

Nearly everyone at a peace rally held Saturday had been affected by street violence in some way. Many attendees wore crosses and wrote in the names of people they know that have been struck down.

"My daughter got a friend that was killed by violence. That's why I'm here," said Cynthia Lloyd.

Others were once active participants in the violence.

"It was a dead-end street for me. All of my friends are dead or locked up for life. The first time I went to jail, I got out of it," said former gang member Luis Rodriguez.

Ceasefire was one of the main engines behind Saturday's rally. Chicago's Humboldt Park area is one of the few communities where the 'stop-the-violence' organization still operates because, in August 2007, Governor Blagojevich cut all of its state funding, which was more than $6 million.

"It shut us down for a while. We came in volunteering. We tried to keep this going, regardless of whether we were getting paid or not," Ceasefire outreach worker Darrell Johnson said.

Still, the difference before and after the budget cut was dramatic. Ceasefire's mission is to stop violence before it happens. The organization employs former gang members who go into communities after a shooting has happened and try to diffuse the situation before any retaliation takes place. Without the money to pay those workers, Ceasefire's Executive Director Gary Slutkin says, the organization is no longer as effective.

"Last year, there were 350 to 400 conflicts interrupted. This year it's dropped to 40," he said.

That is why Slutkin and others attending Saturday's rally were thankful to hear that a three-year independent study, commissioned by the Department of Justice, has concluded that, in surveyed sites, "Ceasefire was associated with distinct and statistically significant declines in the broadest measure of actual and attempted shootings, declines that range from 17 to 24 percent."

The findings were released from the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

State Sen. Iris Martinez spearheaded the effort to re-establish Ceasefire funding in Humboldt Park and Logan Square. She said she hoped the study would convince the governor to do the same for the rest of the city of Chicago.

"The money should come back in communities that have a proven track record [where Ceasefire has been a] violence interrupter," said Martinez, who represents the Illinois District 22.

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