Supporters and community outreach staff for Chicago’s Ceasefire rallied at the James R. Thompson Center last week, urging state legislators to properly fund the anti-violence group.
Supporters pushed for the state to approve its 2008-2009 budget that includes money for Ceasefire. The group’s funding was slashed in last year’s budget.
Approximately $6.25 million is allocated to the group this time, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich had threatened cuts totaling $2 billion this year to cover a shortfall in the state’s budget. But that, say supporters, will leave Ceasefire out in the cold without adequate funding for the second year in a row.
“We are here today trying to get our budget passed,” said Ricardo Williams, a 35-year-old Ceasefire volunteer who works in Englewood, at last Tuesday’s rally. “Last year we had more than 150 [outreach] workers-now we got, like, 20. We’re trying to get more people back out there to try to save some lives.”
Blagojevich last Thursday proposed $1.4 million in cuts. The Illinois House met this week in special session with some Democrats looking to scale back the governor’s cuts, especially in social services which include Ceasefire.
The group’s efforts include mediating gang disputes and steering kids away from gangs and violence. Their outreach volunteers are former gang members.
Funding proponents point out that Chicago’s homicide rate has risen 13 percent since Ceasefire was cut from last year’s budget. Every speaker at the rally echoed as much.
Tio Hardiman, director of gang mediation services for Ceasefire, held up a poster showing the impact of shootings since August 2007 when Ceasefire’s funds were cut. According to Hardiman, in January through August 2007, shootings were down by 159 victims but after their funding was cut, shootings increased by 170.
“I’m not saying we’re the answer to all the violence, but we do our part,” he said.
In May of 2007, researchers at Northwestern University released a U.S. Department of Justice-commissioned report on Ceasefire’s effectiveness.
The three-year study by lead researcher Professor Wesley Skogan focused on the seven Chicago areas where Ceasefire operates. The report showed that six of those areas were safer than they were before the program existing there.
According to the study, Ceasefire had a “definitive impact” on hot-spot neighborhoods.
Despite its funding issues, Ceasefire continues to be what Christian Valley Baptist Church Pastor Steve Greer described as a “political volleyball.”
“I don’t see how you can consider [Ceasefire] to be pork, but the funding was still cut,” he said.
Greer added that Ceasefire’s job placement efforts helped keep young people from making poor choices. Anthony Harvey, a 20-year-old parolee speaking at the rally, is one such person.
“We need our jobs,” he said. “If we have jobs, I’ll stop killing.”
But Marielle Sainvilus, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said that even if Ceasefire is cut again this year, the state has other human services programs to address violence. Last year, the Blagojevich’s administration launched The Safety Net Works, a multi-agency initiative designed to help stop violence and killing in communities across the state. The initiative, however, stipulates that funding is provided to community groups that form a coalition with a church or school. Ceasefire did not apply for program last year.
Hardiman, though, argued that Safety Net Works was a ploy to push Ceasefire out of the way.
“Would you rather go with an evidence-based program that’s been proven or go with an organization that just started up?” he asked. “That’s the biggest question for the state. We’re anti-violence. We’re not into politics, and that’s probably why we go through so many challenges to get funding.”