WOODLAWN — Former violence interrupters are calling for programs that hire former gang members to try to head off disputes before they turned deadly to again get state funding to help reduce the rising violence in Chicago.
Tio Hardiman, the director of Violence Interrupters, was in Woodlawn on Tuesday making an appeal for $3 million to revive similar programs. Hardiman formerly headed CeaseFire, a nationally known group.
Woodlawn is where NBA star Dwyane Wade’s cousin, Nykea Aldridge, was shot and killed Friday by a stray bullet.
“I need $3 million right now so I can get 300 individuals and train them on violence interruptions,” Hardiman said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner froze $4.7 million in funding for the CeaseFire program in 2015.
Ameena Matthews, who appeared in a 2011 documentary about the program, is now one of only a few people working for Hardiman's new group.
“It takes time to tell who our neighbors are and who our communities are,” Matthews said of the toll funding cuts took on the program.
Hardiman asked Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to give him the names of 400 of the 1,400 people Johnson has said are driving much of the violence in the city. Hardiman said he would convert those people to working to stop the violence.
Arthur Stringer, a former leader of the Black Disciples in Woodlawn, supported Hardiman’s calls for funding and said Aldridge’s murder was part of a dispute between members of the same gang.
“It was all internal,” said Stringer, who formerly lived in the Parkway Gardens apartment complex where Aldridge was shot and who said he still followed the disputes around the buildings, which sit along Martin Luther King Drive between 63rd and 66th streets.
He said he was unsure of the exact dispute that led to the gunfire that resulted in Aldridge’s murder, but said it involved two groups of men associated with the same branch of the Black Disciples in Parkway Gardens. Aldridge was not the intended target or involved in the dispute, he said, which is also what police have said.
Brothers Darwin and Derren Sorrells were charged on Sunday with the murder of 32-year-old Aldridge.
Authorities said Sunday that the brothers were aiming at a driver bringing several women to Parkway Gardens from the suburbs. Derren Sorrells, 22, fired the shots that missed the driver, who the two had fought with, and hit Aldridge in the right arm, right eyelid and the back of her head, authorities said.
The death of Aldridge, who was pushing her 4-month-old child, Da’Kota, in a stroller at the time, immediately gained national attention because her cousin is Wade, a former Miami Heat star who recently signed with the Bulls. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tried to use her death to gain political support among African-American voters on Twitter.
Aldridge’s death also captured the attention of people working to reduce violence in New York, who traveled to Chicago on Tuesday to support Hardiman’s request, including Phillip Banks, former head of department in the New York Police Department.
“I have seen in New York City over the course of my time police trying to accomplish things individually and they have had some success but they couldn’t get across the finish line,” Banks said.
When asked what advice he would give to Johnson, he said his biggest successes came when he directly asked the community what should be done to address violence, particularly around specific festivities and events.
“They actually gave me the roundup to come up with a plan,” Banks said. “Ask yourself, 'Are you trying to win this battle alone?'”
Banks retired from the New York Police Department in 2014 amid a federal investigation about whether he and others in the police department accepted cash and gifts from wealthy developers in exchange for favors, including escorts by officers to the airport.
Banks said later Tuesday by email that he was never questioned or charged in the probe.
Erica Ford, head of the South Jamaica Cure Violence program and founder of Life Camp in Queens, New York, said funding for programs like CeaseFire have helped in her community.
“Just because someone has a gun in their hand does not mean they are an evil person,” Ford said. “People do not want to live like this.”
She said she did not see meaningful differences between the causes of violence in New York City and Chicago. Both cities are grappling with gangs that are more fractured and more likely to use violence to settle personal disputes, although the problem in Chicago is far worse than in New York or even Los Angeles, which combined had fewer murders so far this year than Chicago
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