Organizations leaders say identifying and fixing larger system failures can help anti-violence work

Chicago News

CHICAGO — There are a lot of organizations in Chicago that have been working non-stop to quell the violence. They promote talking to young people and intervening in disputes before they escalate.

But there is more work to do including working to dismantle systems that have created the problem in the first place.

Chris Patterson is the senior director of program and policy for the Institute for Non-Violence Chicago.

“No one has seen this level of brazenness, this level of disorganization that is happening on the streets and the violence that’s following it,” he said.

Patterson leads a team of street outreach workers who’ve been working day and night, even weekends to end the cycle of violence that hit a peak in 2016.

“All the numbers now indicate 2016 was light compared to what we’re facing now,” he said.

Patterson grew up in Cabrini Green and remembers a time when gangs instituted a city-wide peace treaty after the death of 7-year-old Dantrell Davis. He was killed while walking to school with his mother in 1992.

“We need to get back to the space where children are sacred,” Patterson said.

Shannon Bennett is the deputy director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, or KOCO.

“We have to look at root causes,” Bennett said.

The grassroots organization has been working since 1965 to empower community leaders, especially young people. 

Bennett said police and city leaders are working off the same old script when it comes to causes of street violence.

“We can’t fall for the same villains, because the same villains are not always easily identifiable,” Bennett said. “So when you say ‘gangs, drugs and guns,’ those are almost symptoms of a larger system failure that this country has done.”

Bennett said the current generation has inherited a mess.

“We cant just look at it in the state of now,” Bennett said. “We have to look at it historic disinvestment and historic oppression and historic racist system that’s allowed one group to succeed over others.”

“We’re talking about changing structures,” Patterson said.

Both Bennett and Patterson said there’s no quick fix for stopping the violence.

“The answer doesn’t always lie with incarceration, and people don’t want to hear that,” Patterson said. “But when tragedies strike areas that are fully resourced, the playbook is bring in mental health professionals, bring in other resources. And I think communities that I work in deserve the same.”

“This is all our problem and not a problem that can’t be fixed,” Bennett said. “There’s an opportunity.”

Both Bennett and Patterson said there must be accountability for people who commit these crimes, but they say just locking people up is not the answer. They advocate for restorative justice programs and other opportunities for people to rehabilitate themselves.

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