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Devontay Williams in the Boxing Out Negativity training gym.

spotlight: The Fighter and the Coach

The problem was, Devontay Williams had just been shot – for the third time. And that really made him mad.

He and four others had been hit in one of this year’s “mass shootings,” marking the third gunshot wound Williams has suffered in his 22 years of life.

That’s enough to make anyone angry, isn’t it? But Williams’ coach wasn’t buying it – and his mentors weren’t either.

That scene played out at Boxing Out Negativity, headquartered in a makeshift West Side boxing gym. The program’s founder, Coach Derek Brown, says boxing can provide “sneak discipline” and lure Chicago’s toughest youths away from deadly violence and into the gym.

spotlight: Mothers on a Mission

Mothers On A Mission 28 has an exclusive membership: You must have a murdered child to join.

Bertha Purnell founded the group in 2018, the year after her son was killed. It was disturbingly easy for her to find eligible women to join.

Now this year, for the first time, they’re demonstrating on the anniversaries of their children’s violent deaths, calling for peace and hoping to solve murders that remain unsolved.

The mothers’ mission is to stop others from sharing their fate, says Purnell. “We don’t want you to be part of this club.”

Mothers On A Mission 28 rally on the street where member Tracy Lyons’ son was fatally shot.

Leak & Sons Funeral Home

spotlight: Burying Our Young

Out front, the hearses line up, one after another, ready for the slow ride to the cemetery.

Inside, there is no joy in the voice of proprietor Spencer Leak Sr. when he says his establishment has become a “barometer” for murder.

His father founded the Leak & Sons Funeral Home back in 1933. It wasn’t the same back then. But now the business routinely buries one or two homicide victims a week – and Leak observes the tragedy up close.

Welcome Friends

Twelve years ago I wrote a story for The Atlantic magazine about a Chicago funeral home that buried scores of young homicide victims that year.

Not much has changed. The Leak & Sons Funeral Home buried another “100 or more” homicide victims in 2020, says funeral director Spencer Leak Jr. – and this year the pace continues.

Before that Atlantic article, for years I was a crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune and I’ve seen a lot of funerals. I’m talking about funerals of the too-soon dead. The dead from unnatural causes. The way-too-young-to-die dead.

Eventually I transferred to other Tribune beats and ended up covering war-time killing in the Middle East and Bosnia. By now you might say I’m an expert on violence, at least compared to the average person. You could also say I’ve had enough of it.

Think of it this way: Human beings can build buildings a hundred stories high, fly into outer space, and split the atom. And yet we put up with this? This parade of violent death, this constant heartbreak, the ongoing fear and pain?

Yes, it’s complex and difficult and will take a huge effort, but I believe our city’s high murder rate and low homicide clearance rates are SOLVABLE PROBLEMS.

So welcome, friends, to Stop the Violence Chicago.

Please join us!

Send us your ideas, your stories and the work you’re doing by submitting here.

We welcome input from all Chicago organizations tackling violence, from university researchers, community activists, outreach workers, and cops on the street.

We want to hear from survivors, witnesses and even perpetrators – anyone with real insight into violent crime.

Let’s examine what works and what doesn’t, and make a collective decision that what happens to one of us concerns ALL of us.

We can do it, Chicago! Let’s stop the violence.

Stop the Cycle: Different Approaches

by Linnet Burden

series introduction

Research has shown that violent criminals often come from violent backgrounds, where they’ve experienced child abuse, domestic violence or other trauma. Meanwhile, inferior public schools and pervasive poverty plague Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.

But why do some residents succeed despite it all?

How do some escape the cycles of violence, while so many others stay trapped?

These are questions I want to explore in this series. Many Chicagoans are tackling these huge issues, using a variety of approaches. Some might work and some might not – but at least they’re trying.

Playing to a Tough Crowd: READI Chicago

They’re playing to a tough crowd:  96% have prior arrests, 64% served time behind bars and 80% have been victims of violent crime themselves. READI Chicago, the Rapid Employment And Development Initiative, serves a hardened clientele that many wouldn’t attempt to...

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READI Senior Director Eduardo Bocanegra

Mothers and Men Against Senseless Killings

Tamar Manasseh lays out a recipe for Chicago’s violence. “If you bake a cake, you need many things,” said the founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings (MASK). “If you remove the baking soda or the eggs or something else, it won’t be a cake.” Likewise, she...

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Friends of the Children

Friends of the Children stresses “the power of one” – one person, that is, who can rescue a kid from violence. “Our model is distinct, courageous and proven,” the organization’s website states. It is based on studies that show a caring, consistent adult is the one...

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Healing Hurt People

It’s not what a typical medical student thinks of when they choose pediatrics as their field. But it’s now part of Dr. Bradley Stolbach’s career in children’s health care: gunshot wounds. Also stabbings and blunt force trauma inflicted by bricks, baseball bats and...

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