As the city still reels from a recent South Side shooting spree that left three dead and 23 people wounded, anti-gang violence group Cure Violence — formerly known as CeaseFire — has announced that it's closing two of its community locations, including one on the West Side.
The organization has run out of city funding, according to officials with the organization. As a result, many of its 24 employees stationed at satellite facilities in North Lawndale, as well as in Woodlawn on the South Side, will be let go.
Known since its inception as CeaseFire, the organization works to prevent gang-related violence by mediating conflicts between members. Stopping potential retaliation between gangs is another focus.
The news of the closures concerns some Austinites, who's seen gang violence ravage the community.
"The last thing we need right now is an organization that is on the front-line to simply go away at this point," said Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church, located on 1256 N. Waller. According to Acree, the closings could not have come at a worst time.
"I have not worked with the group since the departure of [former program director] Tio Hardiman, but I have admired much of the work the group has done in recent years to stem the violence in our community," Acree said.
Last summer, CeaseFire received a $1 million, one-year contract to fund its facility operations. At that time, the city's homicide rate exceeded 500, the highest rate in four years.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy had said they were looking for solutions to address the escalating rate. Reaching out to the organization was done on an interim basis, they said. That contract, however, was not renewed for a second year. Many CeaseFire volunteers and supporters had hoped the contract would be renewed. Politics may also have played a part in the decision not to renew, supporters say.
"I think the [Police] department wants to own the violence issue and may not see the importance of CeaseFire," said 8th District state Rep. LaShawn Ford. "But I have worked with the organization for a number of years now and I know that the closings will have a tremendous impact on the community. Not only will many jobs be lost, but the relationships that the organization has formed with the community, which has been shown to be successful in preventing gang-related violence, will be fractured."
The closings are the latest setback for the organization. In June, the organization opted not to renew the contract of former CeaseFire executive director Tio Hardiman after his arrest on domestic violence charges last May. Those charges have since been dropped and Hardiman is now planning a gubernatorial run.
The partnership between CeaseFire and the Chicago Police Department has also been somewhat rocky over the years. Some officers reportedly have been reluctant to work with the organization because of its close ties with convicted felons and former gang members who volunteer with the group.
Some polkce have also been critical of the group's "interrupters" — which is what the organization calls its mediators — for not working more closely with police.