Risking their lives to keep others from losing theirs: Anti-violence group works Chicago conflict areas

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CHICAGO — As night falls on Chicago’s South Side, certain blocks become dangerous. Walking up Cottage Grove Avenue could even be deadly.

But men with the group Cure Violence Global risk their lives while trying to stop someone else from losing theirs.

From 4 p.m. until at least midnight, Demeatrius Whatley, Demarco McDaniel and Jessie Davis spend time building relationships with gang members, drug dealers and others who are known to be violent. Each conversation has the potential to save a life.

“We go into a situation where there’s already internal conflict. We try to mediate those conflicts on both sides by establishing a peace agreement,” Whatley said. “Everybody playing defense. And once everybody agrees to that, we monitor that for 30 to 90 days. Once that’s going good, then we’re able to do cross-transactions.”

I try to prevent violence. I try to stop shootings. If there’s something going on and I catch wind of it, I try to get ahead of it. 

Demarco McDaniel

Getting ahead of a shooting is what Cure Violence Global is all about. These men step into danger zones.

“We save lives everyday. And them the stories that don’t get told,” McDaniel said.

Sometimes they have to dodge bullets while trying to bring change to these streets.

“I’m around shooters and violent guys all day, everyday,” McDaniel said. “I could be standing next to him and one of his rivals will come and shoot him, at him and hit me. It’s that easy. Bullets ain’t got no name.”

Who does has a name? The victims of gun violence. Like 9-year-old Janari Ricks, 1-year-old Sincere Gaston, 10-year-old Lena Nunez to name a few.   Just this year, Chicago has seen more than 670 people killed.

The men of Cure Violence Global don’t mind being in the thick of it. At one point, they were once in this lifestyle.

 “I was involved in a murder, homicide. I did 18 years. I came home in 2015. A year or so later I started working with the company,” McDaniel said.

 I was once a part of the problem. I was once those guys. Everybody won’t grow out of it. I’m one of the few guys that grew out of it.

Jessie Davis

After experiencing their own life altering moments, they’re now putting forth an effort to help these men do the same by showing them violence isn’t a necessity.

“I ask them, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’” Davis said.  “And if there’s anything that we can help you, we’ll help you.”

However, the men realize more needs to come from city leaders and the community.

“A lot needs to open up,” Davis said. “We need mental health centers. We need mental health.” screening.

“Programs. Opportunity,” McDaniel said. “They need outlets. It’s easy to go pick up a gun or go pick up a pack.”

Where we’re from, it’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a job.

Demarco McDaniel

But for these men what’s most important is seeing their brothers and sisters live, even if that means putting their life on the line.

“I can sleep good, you know? Knowing a mother’s not crying because I lost a sibling to the streets,” Whatley said. “I know that pain.”

“Sometimes you got to plant the seed and wait for it to grow,” McDaniel said. “And that’s what we do.”

A seed of life and hope—instead of death.

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