Prevent Violence and Promote Peace in Chicago

 
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Community violence is both endemic and epidemic.  In Chicago it is acutely both.  How can both be overcome? Only a dual strategy that both prevents the violence and promotes the peace in select at risk families, schools, communities and other local institutions, can work. We must address the values, attitudes, behaviors and institutions that produce the violence and replace them with those that promote the peace, particularly in neighborhoods of severe concentrated disadvantage.  Interrupting a violent street incident is a very small part of this effort.  The violence is the product of an accumulation of high risk factors that are physiological, psychological, social, economic and cultural, from the militarized culture and police violence, to the failing educational success rates for boys, particularly African American boys.


The challenge is not merely a “public health crisis” or a “law and order crisis.”  It is a result of the historic failure of Chicago to serve its African American community and Chicago’s Global City Strategy.   When a city mostly focuses on high growth rates, an export oriented high tech new economy, and concentrated downtown investment, the result is increasing income inequality, unemployment and despair for those that do not fit into the new economy.  Entire neighborhoods are delinked from the Global City Strategy and rebellious African American males are stored in jail. 


This effort outlined here, begun in 2000 and defunded by the State of Illinois in favor of fighting “terrorism” after 9-11, began a 5-10 year program  (http://www.barryweisberg.info/VPPPS.html) with ongoing evaluation.  There were seven components that (1) addressed values, attitudes and behaviors; (2) created community partnerships to empower people; (3) an Early Childhood Development and School Success Strategy; (4) a Building Parent Bridges program, (5) Chicago parks programs, (6) a Build the Peace Summer program for select schools, and  (7) a city wide Chicago Build the Peace Committee (http://www.buildthepeace.org/?p=7).


The Strategy sought to create a pilot project in four communities, one Black, Latino, mixed and white led by a community coalition.  This effort began to conduct a community diagnostic of the risks and assets of the neighborhood and sought to embrace every family, school, health provider and other key institutions in the community area.  This Strategy sought direct engagement with hundreds of at risk individuals and families in each pilot community.  Those at risk included residents who have engaged in the violence and who were victims or witnesses to the violence.  For example, those children, youth and adults with a violent history, children failing a grade in school or who have dropped out, and of course, gang members as possible. Every women at their first time pregnancy doctor visit would be screened for family violence and a strategy designed for that family, together with early childhood development, so that the child can enter school largely free from the culture of violence.  A Build the Peace Summer Program enlisted youth at risk of failing a grade or dropping out of school and prepared them for a productive school year.  Such an effort should be planned now for 2013.


The promotion of peace initiatives are equally, if not more important.  Peace is not the absence or end of violence, but the promotion of human development, cooperation, empathy, and compassion through a variety of individual, micro and macro initiatives.  For example, at the individual scale peace breathing  (http://www.peaceschool.org/), “inhale world, exhale peace,” a form of meditation and yoga with youth in school, has been demonstrated to change behavior and focus youth for achievement. At the macro scale we created the Chicago Build the Peace Committee, supported by Mayor and Maggie Daley that engages in a variety of efforts from school wide activities to programs in libraries and parks.


Experience worldwide, and in Chicago, offers very effective alternatives to the law and order fight against guns, drugs and gangs.  But it takes a very different kind of perspective than that in City Hall, and different leadership than the police and churches.


July 9, 2012