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In Chicago, Stopping Crime Before It Happens
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In Chicago, Stopping Crime Before It Happens
In Chicago, Stopping Crime Before It Happens
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

All week, we've been looking at efforts to stop youth violence in Chicago. On one side are police, community groups and schools. On the other side are the gangs that fuel violence.

NPR's Cheryl Corley has the story of one teenager who says he has left gangs behind and is looking toward a new life.

CHERYL CORLEY: He is 17 years old.

Mr. DEYONTAYE BROOMS: My name is Deyontaye Brooms. I'm from Chicago.

CORLEY: Deyontaye Brooms has a quick and winning smile. He's small, with a close-cropped haircut, and he comes from a large family.

Mr. BROOMS: My mama got two kids(ph), so it's - there's eight of us.

CORLEY: He lives with his mother, his stepfather, his siblings, and he's a junior at Fenger Academy High School. That's a school that gained notoriety a few years ago when cell phone video of the beating death of another student in a fight several blocks from the school went viral on the Internet. Roseland, says Deyontaye, is a rough neighborhood.

Mr. BROOMS: It's a lot of shooting every day. You know, I also got shot at once upon a time. My friends also got shot at, shot. I was just lucky that I ain't got shot, you know.

CORLEY: Lucky, says Deyontaye, because he's involved now with CeaseFire, the anti-violence group that works to quell trouble, especially shootings, on the streets.

Here at the Roseland CeaseFire office, Deyontaye is open about his young life. He's on probation for getting into an altercation with a school security guard. And when he was on the verge of getting kicked out of school, CeaseFire helped prevent it.

Deyontaye says he's very familiar with the violence in his community because he was often a part of it.

Mr. BROOMS: I was in a gang. I was a gangster and everything. It happens. You know, I used to be out here robbing people, shooting at people, break into houses, doing everything I could to get the money - selling drugs and everything. Everything.

CORLEY: Deyontaye swivels in his chair and says those days are over now. The gangbanging and crime started, he says, because his mother was struggling and he needed things - money, fashionable shoes, things he couldn't get from home. He says he began his life with a gang when he was about 11 or 12.

Mr. BROOMS: The reason why I started shooting is because, you know, people hating and everything, you know, hating on me, trying to take advantage of my size and everything, you know. I couldn't beat everybody with my hands. You know, I ain't saying, like, I lost any fights or nothing like that. It's just, they grab theirs, I'm going to get mine.

CORLEY: So, they had their gun.

Mr. BROOMS: Yes.

CORLEY: You were going after your gun.

Mr. BROOMS: Yes.

CORLEY: Did that happen a lot?

Mr. BROOMS: Yes.

CORLEY: University of Chicago researcher Dexter Voisin studies how youth on Chicago's south side cope with community violence. He says teens growing up in dangerous neighborhoods have a range of coping strategies. They include seeking out non-violent friends, becoming resigned, striving to do well in school, and for some, fighting back.

Professor DEXTER VOISIN (Researcher, University of Chicago): And I think part of the sort of code of survival on the streets in terms of I have to retaliate. If I don't retaliate, it's just a matter of time before I'm dead. I think the coping mechanisms for some boys are the same coping mechanisms that are also putting them in harm's way in terms of homicide trends.

CORLEY: But without a gun, says Deyontaye, he fears for his safety.

Mr. BROOMS: Yeah, I do, you know. When I ain't got it on me, I feel like something can happen. I ain't like I walk around every day with it, you know. 'Cause I feel like I don't want to go to jail at all. I ain't got no time to be going to jail, trying to get somebody up off me, shanking people and stuff, you know. I never had to kill nobody in my life.

CORLEY: Deyontaye says he's also never harmed anyone with a gun, as far as he knows. But he has lost a couple of friends to gunfire, so he understands when people seek revenge.

Mr. BROOMS: Crying over your man's coffin and everything make you want to get at anybody. Anybody disrespect you, you gonna get it.

CORLEY: But while he understands the streets, Deyontaye says he's been working hard to change.

Mr. BROOMS: Well, I ain't selling drugs no more. I'm not fighting no more. I'm not reckless no more. Plus, I got people in my ear telling me, like, man, you don't need to do that, man. That's the same thing I used to do when I was young. And I'm like, all right. If you speaking real talk. That's real talk.

CORLEY: The U.S. Department of Justice calls CeaseFire's strategy effective. It found that the group's interventions and work with young gang members has helped decrease shootings and killings.

Harold Pollack, the co-director of the crime lab at the University of Chicago, says there's also a broader public policy challenge that needs to be addressed.

Mr. HAROLD POLLACK (Co-Director, Crime Lab, University of Chicago): The best thing we can do for many of these young people to keep them out of crime is make sure they have a job. In this current economic climate, not enough politicians, particularly in Washington, appreciate the importance of that. When we're trying to get money for summer jobs for Chicago youth, it's a heavy lift in Washington to get those kinds of resources.

CORLEY: Deyontaye hopes CeaseFire can help him find some type of work. He still has some problems at school, but his grades have improved. And he says despite some of the violent stories that have made headline news, some of the violence prevention efforts in Roseland actually seem to be working.

Mr. BROOMS: 'Cause right now, you know, it ain't really hectic like it used to be. Right now, it's kind of quiet where I'm at. It's kind of quiet. You ain't hear any shooting, nothing like that. A nice little minute.

CORLEY: A nice little minute.

Mr. BROOMS: Nice little minute.

CORLEY: Now, Deyontaye says all he wants to do is just make it in life, try to make his high school football team and hopefully play football in college. He's already selected his school choices.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

MONTAGNE: Tomorrow on WEEKEND EDITION, the story of a teenage girl who was shot and survived. For more on our series, go to npr.org.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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