April 2012 E-Newsletter – CeaseFire: spreading a message of hope

Unseasonably warm weather this spring brought with it unprecedented levels of violence in some of Chicago’s neighborhoods. During one weekend, 49 people were shot – 10 of them fatally. The most shocking of these was the death of a six-year-old, shot on her front porch.

CeaseFire couldn’t stop that child’s senseless killing. But we know that violence, acting like a disease, spreads after it flares. So CeaseFire workers were with the family immediately afterwards, offering support and comfort. Equally as important, they intervened with family members and friends to prevent the retaliatory shootings and killings that so often follow a violent event. CeaseFire Illinois Director Tio Hardiman talked with CNN Correspondent/Anchor Brooke Baldwin about this tragic death.

These deadly Chicago shootings drive home the need for CeaseFire. In 2011, CeaseFire workers interrupted 481 conflicts that were thought likely or very likely to have otherwise resulted in a shooting in Chicago. Throughout the year, violence interrupters and outreach workers spent 49,821 hours with 996 individuals at high risk for violence. With the CeaseFire model being implemented in cities across the country (including Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Oakland, New Orleans, Kansas City) and in other countries (Iraq, South Africa, Trinidad and more), the impact multiplies significantly.

Changing thinking and behavior about violence is slow, hard work. But it’s happening. Gradually, we are on our way to safer cities and safer countries. We can measure our progress in lives saved and futures gained. Your support makes this work possible. Thank you for partnering with us.

Warm regards,
Gary Slutkin
Founder & Executive Director

Can text messages stop violence and spread peace?

PeaceTXT, a collaboration between CeaseFire and the global innovation network Pop Tech, is betting SMS text messaging can deter violent behavior in the highest-risk individuals when it matters most. Over the last two years, these two organizations have assembled a tech dream team to expand CeaseFire’s violence prevention model through SMS text messaging.

In Kenya, PeaceTXT is working with the Kenyan NGO Sis ni Amani Kenya (SnA-K) to leverage mobile technology for raising awareness and civic engagement, with the aim of preventing violence during next year’s presidential election. Outreach workers there signed up over 23,000 subscribers in the first three weeks alone.

Several studies in other fields of public health have already shown the massive impact that SMS reminders can have on behavior change, e.g., improving drug adherence behavior among AIDS and TB patients in Africa, Asian and South America.

Catch a glimpse into the life and work of CeaseFire workers

“Credible messengers” are key to CeaseFire’s success. CeaseFire community workers share the culture, history, background and life experience of the high risk individuals they are trying to reach. So the message they carry: “Shooting and killing is not acceptable, now or ever” has credibility – and changes thinking and behavior. Recent media profiles give a glimpse into the life and efforts of CeaseFire workers:

Ameena Matthews, one of the Violence Interrupters profiled in “The Interrupters,” was featured recently in the Chicago Defender. “I didn’t ask for this,” Matthews told the Defender. “I was called to do this, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t like to see my people out here struggling and fighting each other. We try our best to get to them before it gets to that point. The times we can’t, we work very hard to make sure it doesn’t escalate.”

Outreach Specialist Angalia Bianca walks the streets in Chicago’s northeast Rogers Park neighborhood trying to pull local youths away from gangs, drugs and crime. Her program manager recently told a Chicago Tribune reporter “Bianca has a remarkable rapport with young people. She can get into some spaces where guys normally wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Spreading hope: the virus of violence can be stopped

CeaseFire’s message of hope – that the virus of violence can be stopped – reverberated in the nation’s capital and in one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning this spring.

In February, CeaseFire founder and Executive Director Gary Slutkin, M.D. joined leading neuroscientists, social psychologists and conflict management experts at a Neuroscience and Social Conflict conference with MIT’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory to advance the global conflict resolution field. Dr. Slutkin participated on a panel on Measuring Conflict Resolution, sharing the results of CeaseFire’s two comprehensive evaluations demonstrating the effectiveness of its public health model in Chicago and Baltimore.

In March, Dr. Slutkin challenged the nation’s mayors to treat violence as a public health issue rather than a public safety issue. Dr. Slutkin spoke on Building Communities to Reduce Violent Deaths Among Black Men and Boys at the Cities United Youth Summit led by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The summit, part of the National League of Cities conference held in Washington D.C., served as a jumping-off point for national and local efforts to explore new, integrated strategies to address the conditions that contribute to the large number of violent deaths among black males.