CeaseFire’s funding shortage may be linked to increased violence

Bullets fly and lives are lost, leaving a community with one question: Why? When the violence erupts, so does the community directly affected by it. They participate in prayer vigils and marches following a shooting incident, and listen to community and c

Bullets fly and lives are lost, leaving a community with one question: Why?

When the violence erupts, so does the community directly affected by it. They participate in prayer vigils and marches following a shooting incident, and listen to community and clergy leaders, along with local elected officials about how disgusted they are about crime that plagues the city.

CeaseFire, a Chicago-based organization that leads anti-violence marches and does outreach work and conducts conflict mediation between gangs to calm tension, said it had a huge presence in those areas before its funding was cut last year.

Last month, the Defender reported that during the first seven months of 2007, the Southeast and Far South Side logged 12 homicides. For the same period this year, the count more than doubled to 28 homicides. On the West Side in Lawndale and Garfield Park, there were 29 murders from January to July 2007. For the first seven months of this year, there were six fewer in those areas.

Last month, there were 14 fewer murders — 48 — versus July’s total of 62, said Monique Bond, spokesperson for Chicago police.

CeaseFire said its decreased presence in the communities most affected by the shootings may have caused those numbers to rise.

Last August, Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut the $6.2 million annual state funding the organization had been receiving. CeaseFire received $16.2 million between 2004 and 2006. The state funded $11 million of that total.

“We received no state funding for the fiscal year 2007-2008. Without the funding, we were only able to keep our program in the 11th police district on the West Side that serves mainly Garfield and West Garfield Park, Lawndale and some of Humboldt Park,” said Charlie Ransford, a data analyst with CeaseFire.

Community involvement, an increased police presence in the community and efforts by CeaseFire and other anti-violence initiatives helped lessen the violence in many areas.

The surge in violent crime, particularly homicide totals, could be largely attributed to gang disputes, said Bond.

Ransford said an undisclosed amount of funding from the federal government and from private foundations helped keep the program afloat after the funding shortage on the West Side, but not in the 6th, 7th and 4th police districts on the South Side that had high murder totals from January to July of this year.

“I’m not saying that CeaseFire stopped all the violence, but it definitely helped it dramatically. Since the funding was cut, violence overall shot up in West Englewood and some other areas,” said Ricardo Williams.

Williams, 36, who volunteers with the organization as a “violence interrupter” in Englewood, said most of the violence starts as small, verbal altercations that quickly escalates and sometimes turns fatal.

“Violence interrupters like CeaseFire contribute to the efforts of identifying gang conflict and implementing conflict resolution,” said Bond.

While CeaseFire has no funded programs in the communities it once served when they received state funding, they still participate in community rallies, marches and prayer vigils, and hand out their signature Black and Red “Stop Killing People” literature, bumper stickers and buttons, Ransford said.

He also said there were about 200 more non-fatal shootings during the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2007, another indication that the organization’s decreased presence may have contributed to the uptick in violence.

From January to June 2007, there were 698 non-fatal shootings in the city. This year during the same period, there were 873 non-fatal shootings, according to statistics from the Chicago Police Department.

Bernard Baltimore, 31, a volunteer with the organization on the Near West Side, agreed with Ransford and Williams.

“The outreach efforts that fed into the 18 communities CeaseFire served was cut without the money. Now there is about a 30 percent increase in crime overall,” Baltimore said.

CeaseFire started nearly eight years ago on the West Side and has spread to more than 15 communities throughout the state. There are plans to expand the program to Baltimore, Cincinnati and Kansas City, Mo., among other cities.

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