Talking the Talk Against Street Violence

By Dianna Douglas

The public health threats in Chicago aren’t just diabetes, asthma and hypertension—about 500 lives are lost every year in the city by homicide.

The University of Chicago Medicine fights the root causes of deadly violence in various ways. One recent attempt is through a partnership with CeaseFire, a group in Chicago that uses public health techniques to identify and interrupt outbreaks of violence with the same intensity as an outbreak of malaria or AIDS.

The work of CeaseFire, documented in the acclaimed 2011 film, The Interrupters, has had mixed results in lowering Chicago’s crime rate. The CeaseFire foot soldiers, called “violence interrupters,” mediate fights to try to keep them from escalating. They are hoping to change the societal norms among people who view violence as an acceptable way to solve conflict. But homicides wax and wane in the city, and the violence interrupters have had a frustrating 2012 so far, with the murder rate 60% higher than the same period last year.

The University of Chicago Medicine will host a total of 6 screenings of The Interrupters around the city this spring. Each is followed by a community discussion. The goal is to give the public some ideas on how to stop violence. Rather than seeing violence as a problem that should be addressed with crime control (more police, more incarceration), they hope that the community can view violence as a disease. The people infected by the disease need treatment and programs rather than judgment.

Below are scenes from one of these screenings and a discussion at the Rainbow PUSH coalition on April 10. Eric Whitaker, MD, MPH, executive vice president of strategic affiliations and associate dean of community-based research at the University of Chicago Medicine, served as the facilitator for the panel.

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