Tio Hardiman, the former gubernatorial candidate and anti-violence advocate recently sat down for an interview with Austin Weekly News. Hardiman, who currently heads Violence Interrupters, Inc., has announced that he’s running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (1st) in the upcoming 2016 election. Below, Hardiman reflects on Austin’s epidemic of violence and clarifies his separation from CeaseFire Illinois, the organization with which he was once synonymous. This interview will be updated in the future to include Hardiman’s thoughts on his upcoming campaign plans.
So can you talk about what you believe are some of the underlying sources of the city’s violence, particularly here on the West Side?
I don’t care what program you put in place or how many police you hire. You are not going to reduce violence in the City of Chicago unless you deal with the core issue of self-hatred amongst some African American people. Gang violence and gun violence are just manifestations of self-hatred. We need programs and curricula to reach these young men and women at an early age so we can teach them to have a love and appreciation for themselves as human beings first and for their brothers and sisters. We have too much hatred going on and I back that theory up this way.
Over 80 percent of the shootings and killings in Chicago are all in poor African American communities. You can take the police off the street for thirty days, including all the violence prevention programs, and I guarantee you [it won’t have a measurable impact on the amount of violence].
You cannot police self-hatred. It’s hard to detect it. You don’t know because a lot of guys are already at a level in their mind that when they get in a confrontation with somebody, no matter whether it’s a high level confrontation or a slight confrontation, they’re going to kill the person. It’s all based on, ‘Look here man, I don’t like you, I don’t even like myself, so get out the way.'”
Where does the self-hatred come from?
It stems from a lot of sources. It stems from poverty. It stems from the fact that some of us have been taught that we have to step on each other in order for each of us to come up. ‘You cannot disrespect me for nothing, because if you disrespect me, I’ve got to kill you.’ It all comes back to plantation politics. People want to be seen as important and if they feel you’re in the way, it creates this division among people.
If you go back to the house brother and field brother mentality, where you had guys on the plantation picking cotton, right? Then you had some brothers in the house; looking good, wearing the master’s hand-me-down clothes. And the brothers in the field picked up automatic resentment against the house brothers. Then it became a problem. It laid down some layers of division among African American people. Don’t get me wrong, our ancestors did good to overcome the slave era in the United States, but once you start saying you are a Gangster Disciple or Vice Lord or Black Disciple or Stone, all you’re doing is accelerating the core issue of self-hatred.
Right now, you’ve got more cliques in Chicago than you have super gangs. And these cliques breed self-hatred. In the black community, words can get you killed because of self-hatred. It’s dormant, but it activates as soon as you get into a conflict. If you look at most of the motives of shootings in Chicago, you’re going to see that most of the motives are all over the place.
What are some solutions you propose to handle this problem of self-hatred that you’ve diagnosed?
My solution would be to design a curriculum to address that. It would be in the schools, in the colleges and everywhere. When I was with CeaseFire [we] taught that violence spreads like an infectious disease. I used to embrace that theory when I was there, but after I looked into it, I have a different opinion now. If violence spreads like an infectious disease, then why is it not transferable [across cultures]? Blacks kill blacks, whites kill whites, Hispanics kill Hispanics, Arabs kill Arabs. If it’s like an infectious disease, then why doesn’t the disease transfer over [across cultures and ethnicities] like HIV or tuberculosis where anybody can catch it? That theory doesn’t hold up based on the fact that it appears that the disease of violence, as they put it, does not transfer over [to other cultures]. So is it a cultural disease or what is it?
George Kelling, [a criminologist] and David Kennedy introduced two theories on crime. Kelling’s theory, called the broken windows theory, is all about locking people up for lower level crimes to deter them from committing higher level crimes. But this is the problem with that approach. When a community is distressed, it’s hard to police it. The violence is all over the place. You’re locking people up and harassing people to a level where it turns a lot of people against the police.
Case in point: Recently, the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] released a study where there were over 250,000 illegal stop-and-frisk searches in Chicago. That’s all based on the broken windows theory. You just harass people and arrest people for any little thing figuring it will reduce crime, but that’s not happening with crime in Chicago right now. Crime isn’t being reduced through this approach.
David Kennedy’s approach is about rounding up the toughest of the toughest guys and putting pressure on their families and everyone around them in order to get them to stop carrying out acts of violence, but that approach is not working either, because nobody is really calling shots on the guys on the streets right now. You’ve got a lot of individuals just doing what they do. That’s my field of expertise.
What about mental health services? Do you think more of these kinds of services can be helpful?
More mental health services would definitely be helpful, but you’ve got to get people to a level where they would definitely accept the fact that they have a mental health issue. A lot of these guys out here shooting people do not feel that anything is wrong with them, but you have to get them to accept that they have an issue. But yes, more mental health services would definitely help.
It’s tragic that the government is cutting the programs out in the city and throughout the state that address the mental health needs of poor people in particular.
Can you talk about your split with CeaseFire?
I want to make it clear to everybody — I’ve never been convicted of any crime in my life. The [domestic] situation that occurred with my wife back then … those charges were dropped on me within two to three weeks, but the people at CeaseFire made a decision with me over night. There had been some preexisting issues, because my name had gotten too big across the country. When you become popular sometimes, there’s a lot of pressure put on you and a lot of envy and jealousy.
My name had become synonymous with CeaseFire. That wasn’t my fault, it just happened to evolve that way. It’s nothing personal. I’ve gotten over my issues from my departure with them. God bless everyone there. I’m still close with a lot of the staff. But my departure was really a wrongful departure. I put 14 years in to help build the organization to become a worldwide organization. I helped build the violence interrupters. That’s why I have my own organization, Violence Interrupters, Inc. I don’t have any ill feelings toward CeaseFire, though.
What does Violence Interrupters, Inc. do?
I go out and speak across the United States and train people in response prevention programs in the four key areas, which include gang mediation, conflict resolution, anger management and stress management. I’m educating people on how to deal with those key issues so they can become better people when it comes down to dealing with everyday life challenges. Secondly, I hire violence interrupters to go out and intervene in conflicts to prevent people from shooting on the front end. It’s not newsworthy when you stop it before it happens.
Can you talk about some specific situations you guys have helped dissolve before they escalated?
I had an incident recently on the West Side, right in Austin, over on the 5300 block around Quincy. Some guys wanted to shoot a young man because of a misunderstanding about some cigarette sales. You know, cigarette sales are popular right now all across the city. We stopped that one on the front end. The guys agreed to let the situation go and now the guy’s not selling cigarettes in a particular area — around the Madison and Lockwood area. So we were able to prevent that guy from being shot or killed. Nine times out of ten he would’ve been killed, because these guys were real serious about controlling the cigarette market. I never thought that cigarettes — loose cigarettes and packs of cigarettes — would become such a hot commodity on the black market. So that’s what we do as violence interrupters.
But once again, if you don’t deal with that issue of self-hatred, you’re not going to reduce violence.