NPR

In Chicago, Stopping Crime Before It Happens

Deyontaye Brooms, 17, is a former youth gang member and now part of CeaseFire. (NPR)

Youth violence rates around the country have been decreasing in recent years, but violent crimes are still most concentrated in poorer, urban neighborhoods. Experts say kids who grow up in dangerous areas are more likely to become targets.

In Chicago, a program called CeaseFire is working to curb violence by helping at-risk youth find employment and patrolling the streets to stop crimes before they happen.

Shooting And Getting Shot At

Deyontaye Brooms is a small 17-year-old with a quick, winning smile, and a close-cropped haircut. The high school junior lives with his mother and stepfather, and has seven siblings.

Broom's school, Fenger Academy in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood, gained notoriety a few years ago when cell phone video of the beating death of another student several blocks from the school went viral on the Internet.

"I used to be out here robbing people, shooting at people, breaking in their houses. I was doing everything I could to get the money... selling drugs and everything... everything."
Deyontaye Brooms, 17-year-old client of CeaseFire

Brooms says Roseland is a rough neighborhood.

"It's a lot of shooting everyday. I got shot at once upon a time. My friends also got shot at and shot," he says. "I was just lucky that I ain't got shot."

Brooms says he might be lucky because he's now involved with CeaseFire.

At the Roseland CeaseFire office, Brooms talks openly about his young life. He's on probation for getting into a fight with a school security guard. When he was on the verge of getting kicked out of school, Brooms says, CeaseFire helped prevent it.

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

"I was in a gang. It happens," he says. "You know, I used to be out here robbing people, shooting at people, breaking in their houses. I was doing everything I could to get the money, selling drugs and everything. Everything."

Brooms says those days are over now. He says the gangbanging and crime started because his mother was struggling and he needed things like money and fashionable shoes — things he couldn't get from home. With no job opportunities for a youngster, Brooms says, he joined a gang when he was about 11 or 12.

"I needed the gun because it's best for me to have mine while they've got theirs," Brooms says. "It's not like I wanted to shoot at people for fun because I'd rather fight than use a gun. But nowadays people don't want to use hands. They don't want to fight; they want to use a gun."

Coping Mechanisms

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 seek out nonviolent friends, some become resigned, others strive to do well in school and some cope by fighting.

Voisin says part of the "code of survival on the streets" is to retaliate.

He says youth begin to think, "If I don't retaliate, it's just a matter of time before I'm dead."

Voisin says he thinks "the coping mechanisms for some boys are the same coping mechanisms that are also putting them in harms way in terms of homicide trends."

For Brooms, having a gun makes him feel safe.

"I feel like something could happen. Ain't like I walk around every day with it. I don't want to go to jail at all and I ain't got no time to be going to jail trying to get somebody up off me," he says. "Never had to kill nobody in my life."

Brooms 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.

"Crying over your man's coffin and everything makes you want to get at anybody," he says.

Brooms says he understands the street life, but still, he says he's been working hard to change.

"I ain't selling drugs no more. I'm not fighting no more. I'm not reckless no more," he says. "Plus I got people in my ear telling me like, 'Man, you don't need to do that, that's the same thing I used to do when I was young and I'm like, all right.'"

Experts Say Jobs Curb Violence

The Justice Department calls CeaseFire's strategy effective. It found that the group's interventions in risky neighborhoods and its work with gang members has helped decrease shootings and killings.

But Harold Pollack, 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.

"The best thing we could do for many of these young people to keep them out of crime is make sure they have a job," Pollack says. "In this current economic climate, not enough politicians, particularly in Washington, appreciate the importance of that. When we are trying to get money for summer jobs for Chicago youth, it's a heavy lift in Washington to get those kinds of resources."

Brooms 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 do seem to be working.

"Right now it's not really hectic like it used to be. Right now it's kind of quiet where I'm at," he says. "You don't hear any shooting or anything. It's a nice little minute. A nice little minute."

Now, Brooms says all he wants to do is just make it in life. He's going to try to make his high school football team and hopefully play football in college. He's already chosen where he wants to go to school.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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