A Conversation with JaShawn Hill: A Family Support Specialist and Chicago Survivor

This conversation was held as part of the series Defender vs. Offender: Gun Violence; this series attempts to breakdown why gun violence continues to be a prevalent issue in Chicago and what steps we need to take as a community and in politics in order to address and resolve this issue. Feel free to be a part of the conversation on the Chicago Defender website, Facebook page and Twitter. 

JaShawn Hill

How long have you been working with Chicago Survivors?
JaShawn Hill: I have been with Chicago Survivors since November of 2015
What brought you to Chicago Survivors?
JH: It was definitely a “call” to do the work, something Divine and Spiritual about how I was connected to Chicago Survivors. I was working at Cabrini Green Legal Aid for 8 years – in several capacities; [at the time] as a Social Worker for Restorative Justice Rights and I was fulfilled in that work when I got the email to interview for a job I never applied for. A previous job I had applied for, to obtain part-time experience, forwarded my resume to Susan Johnson and I ended up interviewing for the position. When I realized the nature of the work, I immediately thought of my own experience with violent loss and how my family and I faced many unresolved issues and lacked the support to heal after such a tragedy… I knew then, this was my window to fill a gap that I was oh so familiar with.
How has Chicago Survivors benefited the community?
JH: I believe we have benefited the community in several ways 1. We offer crime victims services to individuals who often don’t realize they are a victim of crime, so we educate them on their rights and opportunities to be supported. 2. The services are free, so families are able to receive intensive case management from our Family Support Services team in the aftermath of a homicide. 3. We serve as a support in the relationships between families and Chicago Police Department districts. We are there at the scene of the incident to ensure no arrests take place, which has not happened- 0 arrests. When families are in crisis and very emotional, we assist in connecting officers and detectives to families when there are threats of retaliation and intimidation on families. We assist in detective meetings to assist with the communication style and messaging from both parties as well as create a platform for Cold Case meetings after a year from the homicide and there may be no arrest. This meeting is with the detective on the case and his supervisor. Lastly, we benefit the community with the youth program that I have been graced to manage. This segment of our services provides support, counseling and referrals to youth 17 and under who are directly impacted by the homicide. The opportunities to offer youth support, psycho-education and coping skills has proven to reduce scores of PTSD by leaps and bounds.
How many survivors have you talked to since working with the organization?
JH: I have worked with over 175 families- which is not a true number of individuals since we serve families that can include anywhere from 2 people at a session to 10-12 people.
What is a survivor’s story that really sticks out to you?
JH: So many of them stick out to me, but the story of a grandmother who was raising her grandchildren in Englewood lost her 12-year-old granddaughter in senseless gun violence. This story sticks out because the granddaughter was just doing what a normal child would be doing, playing basketball at the park when someone decided to open fire in a public park… this grandmother was very broken when I met her. Yet she was able to connect with every resource who would hear her voice as we at Chicago Survivors were able to support the experience. She met with the mayor and shared her thoughts regarding the harm this was now causing their very small knit family. She was so determined to keep her granddaughter’s legacy alive that she decided to provide back to school supplies each year in honor of her loved one to the school she attended, this is all something she did out of her own resources. And lastly, they decided to keep her name alive by naming the newest granddaughter who was born 1 month after the homicide after her granddaughter. I speak to this grandmother here and there, and she continues to grieve but she also continues to fight to bring justice and light to her granddaughter’s story by telling it as often as she can, to whomever will listen!
What do you think about the South and West Side of Chicago consistently having higher shooting incidents and subsequent homicides than the North side?
JH: I believe that this is a byproduct of individuals facing and normalizing poverty and lack of resources to support their basic needs. What I also see as a frontline service provider is a tremendous amount of hurting people hurting people. There is untreated trauma, complicated grief, unforgiveness and lack of hope within these particular communities. Don’t get me wrong the families I serve are very resilient, but there is only so much one can take after being saturated in so much violence, trauma and loss. The families I serve in these areas have poor relations with the public servants because when they interact with them, the families report that the officers can often times make them feel like they are responsible or they don’t respect their grieving process. Families will often share details about crimes that could lead to arrest but because their interpretation of those who should protect and serve cause them to feel violated, I and the rest of my team will gladly communicate that for them, if the information will get delivered. I mention this statement because the low clearance rate and lack of consequences to the offenders in these areas also cause for more violence. Cases need to be solved at a higher rate!
What do you think we as a city should do to decrease the gun violence in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of the city?
JH: I know we have tried more police coverage, but in my opinion that is not the answer; the answer is better police relations with the community! And if that means we as a city decide to hire more officers with the intention of supporting families with a social worker to enhance the avenues in which we protect and serve, so be it! The communication between communities and CPD is the central root of our troubles, because when communities go silent, the public servants don’t have the support they need to enter domains and territories required to access those stories and connections that are the missing link to closing cases. Of course, we need to have stricter gun laws, but there are states operating under the same laws we have, with far less gun violence than we experience. So the key word here is “impunity” on violent offenders agitates crime numbers.
Do you know about the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, what do you think about it?
JH: Actually I did not know a lot about it, but in general I believe that gun dealers need to be held more accountable to those they serve, because this is a life and death matter, just as a physician who serves a patient with the highest ethics, professionalism (recording/reporting) and values or he loses his license to serve. I use this analogy because a doctor would not just serve anyone without first taking information, looking at past medical history and evaluating the effects of giving the client a particular service. The ramifications of not assessing properly can be deadly in this way as well in the way of the gun dealers…. So I find this system of accountability imperative to reducing crime in not only our city, but around the world.


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