'CeaseFire' Prevents Gang Violence in Chicago

CeaseFire Intervenes With Gang Violence
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Two teenage boys gunned down, a family in anguish, a neighborhood full of hatred and hungry for revenge. It's an all too common scene on the rough streets of Chicago, a city notorious for its gang violence.

But a group of negotiators is using a new tactic to stop the bloodshed.

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A group called CeaseFire says it treats violence as an infectious disease that needs to be isolated before it spreads. Members refer to themselves as "violence interrupters," who try to calm potentially violent situations so others don't react with more aggression.

It's a novel approach being used in Chicago and 14 other cities across the country.

Dr. Steve Salzman, a trauma surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center, treats hundreds of gunshot and stab wounds every year.

VIDEO: Some say shootings and gang related violence are all too common in Chicago.
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"The reality is violence is epidemic. Epidemic to a point where most Americans do not realize how out of control the problem is," he said.

"It's as violent, if not more violent, on a consistent and steady basis than Iraq or Afghanistan."

In Chicago, CeaseFire workers are paid about $30,000 a year to patrol in the meanest parts of town. They urge victims of violent crime, who live in the group's jurisdiction, not to retaliate, as well as offer job and education counseling.

Most employees of the program are ex-convicts and former gang members themselves. Some have even taken bullets.

"It was a wake-up call," said CeaseFire member Nikenya Hardy as he pointed to his gunshot wounds.

After Hardy was shot, a CeaseFire worker approached him in the hospital and begged him not to kill the man who had pointed the gun at him. The worker made several visits until the message got through.

"He got into my head and made me realize that me trying to retaliate wouldn't be nothing but selfish," Hardy said. "I let him live his life. I went on and lived my life ... and it's working out for the best for me and my kids."

Hardy said he has crossed paths with his shooter since then. The last time was in a nightclub. Hardy approached him, shook the man's hand and moved on.

With several members carrying heavy reputations as former gang bangers, CeaseFire has credibility on the streets.

One member, 51-year-old Fred Seaton, served 11 years in prison and is well known in his East Garfield Park neighborhood. On patrol one night, Seaton physically put himself in between Tommie Haynes and a teenager accused of stealing TV sets from Haynes's car, ultimately defusing the situation.

Preventing Shootings Before They Happen

Seaton said if he had not intervened, "somebody would have got shot."

Haynes agreed. "Fred saved me," he said.

The CeaseFire program is run out of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and analyzes these pockets of violence as they spread throughout communities.

Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist, is the founder and executive director of the group. He spent a decade monitoring and treating people with AIDS and tuberculosis in Africa, and believes diseases and violence exhibit very similar characteristics.

"They both spread. In both cases, one event leads to another, leads to another, and then you have a cluster, and pretty soon the whole community is involved," Slutkin said.

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