Chicago is a phenomenal city that is well-known for arts, entertainment, and great shopping. Celebrating milestones in sports, visiting museums from far north to far south and enjoying music and dance in some of the best and well-known venues in the country doesn’t scratch the surface to what Chicago has to offer. Unfortunately, violence concentrated in neighborhood clusters has overshadowed the vibrancy of Chicago’s nightlife.
Tackling violence in Chicago has become national news. In political campaigns and community events, the focus is on education, poverty, drugs, and gang activity. Having the spotlight on Chicago most impoverished and economically despaired neighborhoods has opened the opportunity for important dialogue.
In a 2012 documentary, The Interrupters, by Director, Steve James and best-selling author, Alex Kotlowitz (Cure Violence), the film exposes the harsh reality of surviving in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. The film shows all the complexities and challenges to reach and engage the perpetrators and victims of violence.
The interrupters primary goal is to reduce and prevent future spread of violence by mediation. Gary Slutkin, Founder of Cure Violence, compares violence to disease epidemics. In a Ted Med video titled, “Can violence be cured?” Dr. Slutkin says that the geographical maps in areas where violence is more prevalent remind him of the clusters of disease.
Mr. Slutkin’s logic is to interrupt the spread of violence by hiring workers to shift the norms in these communities. The workers are violence interrupters and outreach workers with credibility and trust access. By engaging in community activity, remodeling and public education, they are uniquely positioned to change the way community members resolve conflict and control their emotions in hostile situations.
Interrupters are poised and prepared to handle the dangers of going into neighborhoods and talking to the people. They show empathy because they grew up on the same streets and in some cases committed the same crimes. They ultimately build trust and find ways to neutralize hostile situations. The youth in these neighborhoods is a part of the epidemic. Spreading violence and retaliation is all they know. It’s all about survival. In the documentary, there is a clear sense of hopelessness. There is a kill or be killed mentality.
Prior to viewing the great work of the interrupters and Dr. Slutkin’s Ted Med talk, I naively thought the solution is to simply go to the community and talk to these people. Let them know the wider population cares. Get to the bottom of the issues. Find out why violence is the answer to every conflict. Then share information with anyone that has enough power and influence to take action and make changes to help the communities recover. What’s missing in my thought process are factoring in poor schools, broken homes, drugs, absent fathers, racism and built up anger.
Finding the right balance between awareness and having productive conversations is critical to get to the bottom of why the problem continues to perpetuate in certain communities. Having access to media and social networks, leaders create opportunities to discuss issues and try to resolve the problem of violence. The primary issue is that conversations slow down and sometimes end when there’s a drop in crime rate.
Having statistics on crime rates in Chicago is a great start to determine the concentration of incidents and the effectiveness of programs that are designed to combat violence. In addition to having this data, a deeper understanding of microcultures in urban neighborhoods is needed. On the south side of Chicago, there’s a distinct behavior; community members believe they are alienated from the wider population. In the Interrupters, those interviewed feel they have no power when it comes to law enforcement and other public officials.
From a marketing and communication point of view, finding the right balance in awareness and engagement is critical to start moving to more positive and long-term results. Because we are in a high-tech and fast paced environment, communication-based in storytelling will create more authentic dialogue.
I will suggest the following steps:
- Integrate as much as possible. Hit as many touch points as possible when advocating for change.
- Create content from different perspectives. Give community members the opportunity to tell their own stories through organized campaigns using social media. Encourage authors to share and continue discussions across multiple platforms.
- Use Analytic tools such as Google Analytics and Social Mention to build future conversations and content.