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Chicago Outreach Coordinator Works To Stop Violence Through Intervention

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We just heard from the mayor of Austin, Texas, about how he's trying to deal with an uptick in gun violence. Now we want to hear from someone doing this work on the ground. For this, we go to Chicago to speak with Marcus Mitchell. He is a community outreach manager with the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago. That's an organization that's been operating in Chicago since 2015 to try to stop violence through intervention and community support. And Marcus Mitchell is with us now. Thank you so much for talking with us.

MARCUS MITCHELL: No problem. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So I just wanted to start by asking, how would you describe the mood in the city, but particularly in the neighborhood where you work, West Garfield Park? What would you say is the mood right now?

MITCHELL: Well, the mood is angry. There's a lot of anxiety. There's a lot of unknown. You know, there's a lot of disruption. It's really complicated.

MARTIN: What do you think the shootings are about? I mean, I think people may have this idea that there's, like, criminal syndicates or gangs, and they're fighting over turf and, you know, kind of, you know, like in the movies. But what do you think it's about?

MITCHELL: Well, it's really a lot of personal shootings, a lot of - look, it's not no big gangs no more like in the past. It's not about turf or anything no more. A lot got to do with just being disrespected on social media and things like that.

MARTIN: You know, Chicago's an interesting story because, you know, 2019 was actually a better year than the year before. Like, shootings were actually going down - and then, in 2020, a major increase from the prior year. Now, of course, you know, 2020 was not a normal year. I mean, schools were closed. A lot of people lost their jobs. There was a lot of stress. Is there any way in which you think there could be a link between all the stuff that was happening with COVID and the increase in shootings?

MITCHELL: There's definitely a link 'cause the COVID come in, and, you know, people was confused. People was told to go in. You had a lot of, again, anxiety. And there's a lot of frustration. And it affected it - along with, like, the looting and stuff. You know, our neighborhoods was in despair.

MARTIN: You mentioned something about social media earlier. Like, how does that work? What would that be about?

MITCHELL: You know, you have a different guise on social media. They might get on social media and say something about the other person. Before, in the past, you know, you had to hear about it through word-of-mouth. Social media is almost like real time. You know, you hear a person say something, and they right here - that increases the chances of the violence 'cause people get right to it. You know, you don't want to get dissed in public.

MARTIN: Another thing that's really gotten people's attention - and rightfully so - look, anytime somebody is shot or killed, it's tragic. But there have been some just sickening incidents where kids have been shot. Like, I think, if my numbers are right, 172 children under 17 were shot between January 1 and June 27 of this year, and 25 died from their injuries. And are people talking about that? And like, what are they saying about that?

MITCHELL: Yeah. The young guys that we speak with, we try to explain to them the dangers of they actions and what they have wanted. And we try to figure out why (inaudible) these things. But also, why do you have your children with you after you did done these things? It don't dawn on you to, you know, be on your heart (ph) not to do stuff while kids be around? It's - yes, it's very sickening.

MARTIN: What do they say when you pose that question to them? What do they say?

MITCHELL: We have to take our kids to the store, take our kids to the barber. You know, how they gone get there if we don't take them? But they don't understand the dangers they putting their children in by having them with them out here in this atmosphere.

MARTIN: So what I hear you saying is that the kids aren't the targets, but they tend to be in the company of somebody who is a target. And that's what's going on. Is that right?

MITCHELL: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: But what about the guys doing the shooting? I mean, don't they have brothers and sisters and kids, too? So how do they justify it?

MITCHELL: I don't know how they justify it. I couldn't tell you that. I mean, how anybody justify anything they do illegal - I don't know.

MARTIN: Tell me about the work that you've been doing. How do you do it? What do you do?

MITCHELL: Well, I'm a supervisor of outreach in the West Garfield Park area. I supervise about 10 individuals. I go out in the community, and I engage with the young participants. Our target population is from, like, 12 to 25 years old. We try to help them young brothers change their mind-set, you know, do positive things in conjunction with our victim services department, our case management department and our reentry department. We help them get in schools, do a life skill program, get jobs. And we help the community.

We - since the pandemic, we've been in the community giving away PPE product, you know, helping the community food boxes. We even done block club events where I have took parents and households grocery shopping. We do pop-ups where there's been violence at - pop-up event where we come in the community. We have food, music. And we pass out information, and - you know, and give resources to the community, bring the resources in. Just in case they can't travel out, we come in and bring them to them. You know, we have the FLIP program, frontline and violence, inner peace. We hire brothers from the community that's still attached to the block but want to change they life, keep on wanting to change. So we give them jobs. We give them stipends. You know, we be there to keep the confusion down, you know, just in case - until we get there.

MARTIN: Right. I see. Do you feel it's helping?

MITCHELL: Yes, it's helping. Yes. See, a lot of things that the public and the media don't understand about outreach - you know, when you stop things on the front end, you never hear about that. You know, you only hear about that sometimes in our data. But, you know, you've got to be delicate of what you say in these - 'cause you got to remember these situations that's going on are a crime. So, you know, you have to be delicate with that. But we stop a lot of stuff on the front end.

MARTIN: Well, thanks so much for talking with me. I really do appreciate it. That's Marcus Mitchell. He's an outreach manager for the Institute of Nonviolence in Chicago. He works in - he supervises a team in West Garfield Park. Mr. Mitchell, I appreciate you. Thank you for talking to me.

MITCHELL: All right. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.