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11:15 am
Tue February 19, 2013

What's Driving The Violence In Chicago



This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Celeste Headlee, in Washington. Neal Conan is away. At the urging of local groups, President Obama went home to Chicago last week to talk about urban violence in a city that recorded more than 40 murders just last month, among them the high-profile killing of Hadiya Pendleton.

The bloody start to the new year following 2012, when homicides claimed the lives of more than 500 people in Chicago. So what's going on in the Windy City? How bad is it, and what does it tell us about violence in other cities? We're wondering: If you're involved in trying to reduce violence in your own community, tell us, what have you tried? Our number is 800-989-8255. The email address is Or you can just join the conversation by going to our website. It's, then click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later on in the program, a modern Medal of Valor for the service people behind drone attacks, but first this tragic trend in Chicago. Joining us now from our bureau in Chicago is NPR's Cheryl Corley, who is the correspondent from Chicago for the national desk. First of all, welcome to the program, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Thank you so much.

HEADLEE: You know, Chicago is not the worst city in the country for gun violence, it's not even in the top 10, and shootings have actually gone down by half there in the past two decades. So why so much attention on Chicago?

CORLEY: Well, I think because the - well, in part because it's the president's hometown, but also I think because unlike New York and L.A., there has been a spike in the number of homicides in Chicago in the last year. You mentioned the numbers, more than 500 last year. And as you also noted, that's a far cry from the number of murders that occurred here in the 1990s.

And so - but seeing the numbers reach again that 500 number, there were 506 last year, is just been really devastating to some communities here and the families here and really frustrating to city officials who had vowed to stem the gun violence that has been occurring in the city.

HEADLEE: So give us an idea of how that plays out actually on the streets and in the communities of Chicago. We heard earlier the voice of Shirley Chambers, who actually lost all of her children to gun violence. How does this play out in people's conversations?

CORLEY: Well, you know, it really depends on where you live because if you walk through some areas of Chicago - most areas of Chicago, they are very safe communities. Police often point out that overall crime in Chicago actually dropped by 10 percent last year and that, you know, it's a really safe community. But in a few neighborhoods, homicide has just really become an epidemic.

A few years ago, police calculated that the percentage of the city where these murders occur, just to give you an idea, is eight and a half percent of the city. So we're talking a small percentage of the city where we're seeing these homicides really occur and really causing so much havoc.

And there's been this outcry over the mass shootings that have occurred at Sandy Hook and elsewhere, and in Chicago you have these folks that have been dealing with crime in these neighborhoods and shootings that seem to occur almost daily, and they just say enough is enough.

HEADLEE: You know, we've heard a lot about the murder of Hadiya Pendleton in the South Side park last month. She was part of the inauguration proceedings in Washington, D.C. Her parents were part of the audience, sitting right next to Michelle Obama during the State of the Union address. Her killing was gun-related - gang-related, excuse me. Are gangs responsible for a lot of the gun violence in Chicago?

CORLEY: Well, Chicago police say yes. They put - they have said that 80 percent of the murders that occur in Chicago are gang-related. And part of the problem is that the gangs in Chicago have become very splintered. It's no - you know, you hear of, you know, in other cities, you know, one huge group and another huge group. In Chicago, you may have huge groups, but there's infighting among those groups now.

So you have people fighting over turf, you have people fighting over reputation, you have people fighting back in retaliation, which is something we heard about in the Hadiya Pendleton case, where reportedly these reputed gang members thought that they were going after other gang members who they thought had shot, you know, one of the defendants in this case.

HEADLEE: You know, I wonder what kind of new ideas are coming up. You know, obviously your mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has talked about this a great deal. But do they have new solutions, or are they trying things that have been used in Chicago for decades?

CORLEY: It's a little of both. They are, for instance, putting more police on the street. The police superintendant, Garry McCarthy, has shifted folks from desk jobs, put them out in districts. They've started what they call this kind of saturation patrol. They have a process where they might target particular gangs and, say, go after them for every little thing that they can in order to get shooting to stop.

The mayor has also talked about taking different approaches as well, trying to offer more after-school programs, things like that. There's a program called Safe Passage where schools and the police department actually go out on the street when school is either beginning or after school to make sure that kids can walk particular routes and make sure that they're safe.

So those are all sorts of things that are being tried in an effort to try to stem this violence in particular neighborhoods.

HEADLEE: I wonder if you get the sense, Cheryl, that they're trying to borrow on the advice of other cities. I mean for example, among the larger cities, New York, surprising many people, has the second-lowest rate of gun death for all big cities in the U.S. Are - is Chicago looking to New York for some guidance?

CORLEY: Well, I don't think so, not in the way that New York has said that it lowered its gun numbers. New York used a process it called Stop and Frisk, where it was able to stop folks and search them, and it said that, you know, what they were doing was stopping crime and gun deaths before it happened. That process is on the decline. A lot of civil libertarians and other folks filed a federal lawsuit, saying that they targeted Latino and blacks in that process. So I don't think Chicago wants to try that, but they are trying different sorts of things in order to get those numbers down, as well.

And I must point out, too, that although New York's numbers in murders and homicides were down, the other serious crimes were up. In Chicago, the other serious crimes like rape and burglaries and robberies were down.

HEADLEE: All right, NPR correspondent Cheryl Corley is staying with us. But this idea of gun violence as an epidemic, and also the one you were just talking about in terms of intervening in ongoing conflicts, when it's not a police officer intervening, it possibly is a violence interrupter. That's the approach of Cure Violence and CeaseFire Illinois, those are both organizations that are trying to address the gang problem in Chicago by engaging on the streets.

And we're joined by Tio Hardiman, who's the director of CeaseFire Illinois, and we reached him at his office in Chicago. Welcome to the TALK OF THE NATION, Tio.

TIO HARDIMAN: Yeah, I'm glad to be here with you.

HEADLEE: So I wonder: What do you think is driving this spike in gun deaths in Chicago? What's behind it?

HARDIMAN: Well, it's really more of the same. Cheryl pretty much hit it, hit all the main points, but what's going on in Chicago is you have the splinter groups, you have a lot of renegade activity going on where the guys don't want to listen to nobody, so they - everybody wants to be a tough guy, every other block.

And I've talked to a lot of young guys involved in the street life. A lot of them told me that retaliation is more of an instinct. It's nothing they even think about. If one of their friends is shot, they're going to retaliate, you know, nine times out of 10.

And we've had this media frenzy when it comes down to social networking. Believe it or not, a lot of guys are gangbanging on Facebook, YouTube, and some guys are under the impression the more violent content they post in their YouTube videos, the more, you know, people will view their videos, and then it leads to rival conflict in some communities throughout Chicago.

HEADLEE: We're speaking with Tio Hardiman, who is with Cure Violence and CeaseFire Illinois. Can you tell us a story, Tio, of a time when you feel like you've successfully stopped gun violence from happening?

HARDIMAN: Without a doubt. I had a grandmother that called us about two months ago because a guy shot her front windows out trying to kill her two grandsons. So she reached out to CeaseFire and the violence interrupters, and so they gave us the name of the alleged shooter. I sent my staff over to talk to this guy. He told us that he wasn't going to listen to anybody. So he came back at 5 o'clock the next morning and burnt up the grandmother's car, trying to lure her grandsons out of the house. So then I had to put the full-court press on this guy. And I went and got some guys from the streets that didn't work for CeaseFire per se but through the CeaseFire violence interrupters to talk to this guy. And we got him to put his gun down. And it all came down to one thing. The lady's grandsons had posted a picture of this guy on Facebook, and because the guy got beat up at a lounge about a week prior to him shooting up the house. And he couldn't catch the guys who beat him up, but he knew where the grandsons lived. And he really was mad about that, and he was going to try to kill those guys.

So we successfully mediated that particularly conflict, and as an end result, we've been following up on it for the last two months, and there hasn't been any more incidents with her grandsons and this particular individual.

HEADLEE: Holy cow.

HARDIMAN: So that's just one of the success stories out of 700-some conflicts we mediated in the year 2012.

HEADLEE: And our question for listeners is if you are involved in this effort in your community to reduce violence there, any violence, what have you tried? Right now on the line with us from New Haven, Connecticut, is Hashim(ph), I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly. Hashim, you started a radio station online for kids. How - why did you think that would work?

HASHIM: I actually took an experience from when I was younger in school. I felt like I wasn't being challenged and would sort of just goof around and get into trouble. And at the time we had Yale Broadcasting, WYBC, and we was able to - I was able to become a volunteer, and the disc jockeys there really became mentors to me.

So we started a program in New Haven, which a couple years ago was just the fourth dangerous city. Gun violence here was getting out of hand. And I just felt like the community should step up along with law enforcement, along with the education department. And it's turned out to work well. It started as an after-school program, and now it's part of the in-school and after-school curriculum.

But what it does is it gives kids an opportunity to learn and do it under a guise of being cool. We have partnered with Horizon Music Group and Elm City Records; they get a chance to go into the recording studio, do their rap stuff. But the - I guess the catch to it is they have to take either journalism or the computer technology courses.

We teach them audio production in the school. And it just takes their time. And that time that they get a chance to spend in school, learning something which is considered cool even by their friends, keeps them off the blocks, and it keeps them out of moments where something may happen and, you know...

HEADLEE: Idle hands, that's what they say, Hashim. That's, yeah, Hashim calling from New Haven, Connecticut. Thank you very much, and especially thank you for implying that radio is cool, Hashim. I appreciate that.


HEADLEE: Stay with us. we're going to have more with Cheryl Corley and Tio Hardiman in just a - just a short break, but we want to know: If you are working in your community, just like Hashim there in Connecticut, if you're trying to reduce violence of any kind, what are you trying, and how is it working? 800-989-8255. And you can send us an email to We'll be right back. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.


HEADLEE: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Celeste Headlee in Washington. On Friday, President Obama spoke to an audience gathered in the Hyde Park Academy High School gym in the same Chicago neighborhood where he and his wife and daughters once lived. And while he was there, he called for common-sense proposals to make it harder for criminals to get guns, and he also focused a bit on the social climate where violence like Chicago's takes root.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And so that means that this is not just a gun issue, it's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building. And for that we all share responsibility as citizens to fix it.

HEADLEE: So if you are involved, like the president says there, as a citizen trying to fix it, to reduce violence in your community, we want to hear your story. What have you tried? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Our email is Or go to our website,, and then join the conversation by clicking on TALK OF THE NATION.

NPR's Cheryl Corley and Tio Hardiman are with us. He's director of CeaseFire Illinois; Cheryl Corley is a correspondent for the national desk based in Chicago. And now also joining us is Robert Sampson. He's studied for years how community can affect things, including violence, and he's a professor of the social sciences at Harvard, author of the new book "Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect." He joins us now from a studio there at Harvard. Welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.


HEADLEE: So you heard the president's remarks from Chicago on Friday. What stuck out of that speech for you?

SAMPSON: Yeah, it seems to me that President Obama was really suggesting a blend of policies at three distinct levels. First, as you noted, a focus on law, particularly gun laws. Secondly, I heard him speak about the need to support children, especially early childhood intervention. A child that drops out is going to be an adolescent who has a greater risk of being involved in crime and violence and many other negative outcomes.

And thirdly, focus on communities, really community-level supports. What we know, in Chicago but also in many other cities, is that violence, along with many other social ills such as low birth weight, infant mortality, early dropout from school, truancy and so forth, these tend to be concentrated in specific places. Violence, especially, is highly uneven.

As Cheryl noted earlier, it's not the fact that violence is somehow going up everywhere. In fact, violence is, overall, declining. What we're seeing, however, is that certain communities almost get locked into a vicious cycle, where it's very difficult to get out, and the factors related to that, among others, are high concentration of poverty related to racial segregation.

HEADLEE: Let me ask you about that, Robert, because I wonder if this is a chicken and the egg thing, maybe you can't even answer it, but what comes first? Is it the poverty and the unemployment, or is it the gun violence? Because gun violence, when gun violence goes up, that results in people leaving a community, businesses leaving a community. So which of these things happens first?

SAMPSON: That's an excellent question. That's one of the things that we've looked at in research. It's really hard to disentangle, actually, and that's why I referred to it as kind of a vicious cycle and a trap, really, that communities get into. We think happens is that both are important. It's hard to say it's just this.

So you get a cycle whereby you have high concentration of poverty and especially when it is related to particular groups. So for example in the United States, it's the case that African-Americans are disproportionately poor. But even if poor, they're much more likely than, let's say, a poor white to live in a poor neighborhood. And that's what we refer to as a concentration effect.

That then leads to all sorts of other conditions. Businesses are less likely to invest. People may be fearful of the violence and as you note move out, which then may make things worse. So what we try to think about is how to intervene in that social system.

But we do think, based on good evidence, that the characteristics of the communities do seem to have an independent effect. And likewise, fear among residents is a really important factor in - by the way, not just for moving out of a community, but fear is implicated in anxiety and other kinds of health-related issues.

HEADLEE: Yeah, sure. And we want to take a call here now from Keith(ph) in Philadelphia. And Keith, meet Tio, you guys both work with CeaseFire, only Keith works with CeaseFire in Philadelphia. Keith, what have you tried that you think works?

KEITH: Well, we're trying - we're working on, along with CeaseFire of Philadelphia, we're a community group, like I'm a committeeman, and the other guy named Angelo(ph), he's a community activist. And we've been - first we started standing on 32nd and York, that's a street in Philadelphia, a major district which has a lot of violence, a couple of people they've gotten killed on that corner.

And what we do, we stand out there with CeaseFire signs, and also we wrote signs that says, on the poster we wrote, talk it out, don't shoot it out. You know, and then we, you know, we kind of collaborated, and we decided to do some marches. And we've accumulated maybe about 20 to 30 people in these marches and also people are joining us daily.

And what we do, we walk around the neighborhood, and we walk on small streets where there's a lot of drug activity that's not a lot of - it's fine in some of the blocks, but it's not a lot of enforcement, I would say, not that it's anything against the police. It's just that, like, the blocks is just a lot of drug activity, and it causes the overspill of gun violence.

HEADLEE: No, that makes sense. Thank you very much, that's a phone call from Keith in Philadelphia. They're kind of trying to fill in for the policemen walking the beat. You know, and I wonder, Cheryl, you know, one of the issues that many people, officials especially, have talked about in Chicago is even though they have a lot of gun regulations, most of the - many of the guns involved in crime in the city of Chicago come from the suburbs, implying that one would need to have federal regulations to have any kind of effect. What have you heard on that note?

CORLEY: Well absolutely not only from the suburbs but from states surrounding Chicago. They particularly point to Indiana, where the gun laws are a little different than they are in Illinois, and also for the city of Chicago. So I think that that's why the mayor and the police superintendent do indeed back the idea of federal gun laws and strengthening gun laws.

Part of the problem in Chicago, as you're alluding to, is the city does have very strict gun regulations. But a lot of the guns that come in and are used in a lot of these crimes, according to the police, are illegal guns that come from elsewhere.

HEADLEE: Tio Hardiman, you're with CeaseFire. I wonder if you think gun regulation is at least part of the solution.

HARDIMAN: No, my thing is this here: You know, everybody has a role to play, but a lot of these young people in Chicago have grown up in a culture of violence in their neighborhoods. And it's about changing the way they think in a lot of ways. Like currently, we're working with 1,100 high-risk individuals throughout Chicago right now.

And we're - we enrolled about 35 percent of the young men back into school. The other 30 percent, they're working now, and the remaining percentage of individuals, we're spending a lot of quality time with them to teach them they can unlearn violent behavior because it's passed down from generation to generation.

I was on CNN the other day, and I made a comment. I said, you know, I grew up Henry Horner Projects on the west side of Chicago, a building of 3,000 people. And if I was mad at you, 40 percent of the people in the building would be mad at you, as well, because I've kind of transmitted the way I think in the minds of the other people there.

So we have to do a lot of work in the behavior-change arena and not just CeaseFire, but CeaseFire is a proven model that works, backed up by the Department of Justice. But it's going to take all of us to do the work. So I believe in collaborating with everybody so we can really have an impact.

CORLEY: Celeste, I think...

HEADLEE: Go ahead.

CORLEY: If I could just add, Celeste, I think that that's the reason why, in addition to Tio's group, there are a lot of groups that are looking and thinking the same way. When the president came here, he met earlier with a group of young men who belonged to this program called BAM, which is called Becoming a Man, where they really focus on teaching these guys accountability, respect for women and things like that.

But a lot of the folks who called for the president to come to Chicago and to really address the whole issue of guns and urban violence said look, yes, we think there should be a focus on guns, but we also think that there has to be a focus on some of the root causes of this violence. So they were looking at things like education and employment and things like that that, that they wanted to hear some kind of plan from the president to address that.

HEADLEE: Well, let me bring that back to you, Robert Sampson, then. You're a professor of social sciences. This is something you've studied. And we're trying to talk about programs that actually work. So do we know that early education works to prevent future violence? Does community involvement? Does something like the caller who's walking around their neighborhood, does that work?

SAMPSON: Yeah, those are good questions. Let me address a couple ways. First of all, I think the issue of the expectations that kids have and the attitudes, as was just mentioned, is crucially important. If you don't expect to live to age 25, if you don't expect to have a job when you're an adult, then an insult today takes on a greater significance than it might otherwise.

And that's why I think that the - a sense in which much of the violence is rooted in insults and revenge. I mean, these are classic motives. And even with strict gun laws, that can be a problem. So we do need a multifaceted approach.

I think, on two fronts, the evidence on early intervention is mixed, but there are encouraging signs. And there's evidence, interestingly enough, that early childhood intervention with respect to education - so, for example, Perry Preschool Project - although the evidence on how it affects test scores is mixed, it turns out that kids do better in non-cognitive outcomes, sort of behavioral outcomes. In other words, do better in later life. So that's evidence to suggest that the more holistic approaches, we don't just care about test scores. We care about kids' development in the broadest sense.

So, yes, I think there's encouraging evidence there, and that's why I pointed to that second prong of President Obama's approach. The third one on community level interventions, evidence is also mixed, but I would say a couple of things. One, the evidence on policing now, I think, is zeroing in on the idea that certain policies - particularly what's known as hotspot policing, where you're targeting the policing in particular areas, and we have better data now, predictive analytics and other things where we can identify those areas - is promising. And that is also something that can be done without necessarily locking up more people.


SAMPSON: At the non-criminal justice level, the evidence suggests that there is a strong relationship between community-level social characteristics that go beyond race and poverty - that is to say, not all poor neighborhoods are the same - the social networks and organizational ties that exist in communities, and particularly the shared expectations that residents have for getting involved. In our Chicago research, we show that that's directly related to lower violence - so programs that encourage both the community-level aspects and better criminal justice, particularly with regard to policing, I think have promise.

Of course, we also need to focus on the resources, such as housing, reduction of the concentration of poverty. And there's kind of a debate in the field as to whether it's best to go with more so-called person-based interventions - such as giving people vouchers to move out of a high-poverty neighborhood - or place-based interventions. I think it's somewhat misleading to see it as either-or. Both are needed.

HEADLEE: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Let's go to a call now, here. This is Amy in Oakland, California. Oakland has long been known as a relatively violent city. Amy, what do you do? What do you find that works in your community?

AMY: Hi. Right now, I'm working with a young man who has written a one-man show that's called "Cops and Robbers," and it's a very compelling show, partly because of who he is, the young man, whose name is Jinho Ferreira. He worked for many years as a rapper, a successful rapper with a hip-hop group called Flipsyde that did music that he was hoping would change the escalation of violence in his community. When he found that wasn't working, he decided to go into law enforcement.

So he's now working in law enforcement, and he's written an amazing - it's a full-length play, it's not a monologue - with 15 characters that tells the story of a police officer who kills a young black man in the community. And then we hear from the characters of the people who live in the community, law enforcement, a number of different media characters. And what's been so exciting is as we have performed this play at different places within the community - once at a theater at the very intersection where the journalist Chauncey Bailey was killed - our audiences are made up of law enforcement, educators, psychologists, social workers and a lot of youth, some youths who are involved in good programs, some youths who are still involved in the life, you know.

And what's so exciting is the discussions that happen after the play, and how these lengthy discussions get people who would consider each other adversaries talking to each other and understanding what's going on in the community from each other's point of view, and talking about how exciting it is to finally have an opening where they can understand each other and talk openly.

HEADLEE: That's - thank you very much, Amy. That's Amy in Oakland, California. And this kind of approach is something that people like Tio Hardiman use in CeaseFire. But I wonder, Robert, even for those people who are not victims or perpetrators of gun violence, I read an amazing statistic where it said 20 to 30 percent of kids in Chicago have witnessed a shooting firsthand. What kind of effect does it have on a generation? What's the difference in outcomes between a kid who witnesses real-live violence and the kid who doesn't?

SAMPSON: That's a huge problem. In fact, I think the figure may be even higher, according to some studies. Our research and that of others shows that exposure to violence in childhood is related to a number of later outcomes, including increased involvement in violence itself. That's often been referred to as the cycle of violence. It's also related to lower abilities, really, I mean, in terms of schooling and learning, so that kids that are exposed to violence, that are fearful, they tend to skip more school.

There's a recent study that even showed that having a homicide occur in your house was related to a drop in test scores if taken within days of that homicide. So the evidence has coalesced around the notion that this is a really serious problem. And, again, even if you are not directly a victim, living in an environment where you are afraid to walk outside, where you hear about what's going on, that then reinforces a lot of the negative behaviors and outcomes - mistrust, in particular.

Some of these communities, I think, what we see is such high levels of cynicism and distrust that it feeds a sense in which institutions are not working, which then causes people to pull back even more. So that's why I think we really need a multifaceted approach to reestablish the validity of key social institutions. And I would include in that the police. It's interesting to hear some of the different strategies in terms of engaging the police with the community, rather than the residents viewing the police as sort of an alien invading force.

HEADLEE: So I guess - we're going to have to end the conversation there. I guess there's no definitive answer on what works and what doesn't. That's Robert Sampson, professor of the social sciences at Harvard University, author of the new book "Great American City." He joined us from a studio at Harvard. Also with us, NPR's Cheryl Corley, a correspondent for the national desk, from our bureau in Chicago. And Tio Hardiman is the director of CeaseFire Illinois. He joined us from his office in Chicago. Thanks to all three of you.

CORLEY: Thank you.

SAMPSON: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Up next, a discussion of a new medal that is awarded to drone pilots. I'm Celeste Headlee. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Stay with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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