Cure Violence, in their own words


Cure ViolenceBy Stephanie Jackson-Ali, LMSW

This week I had the delight of speaking with Patricia Broughton, director of development for Cure Violence, our third-quarter Human Rights beneficiary. You’ve probably already learned the basics about Cure Violence. But, like Cure Violence and their interrupters, we wanted to go directly to the source for more details.

How did the basic idea for CV come about?

Cure Violence was founded by Dr. Gary Slutkin, who was an epidemiologist with training in how to treat infectious diseases. He began by working in San Francisco on the tuberculosis outbreak, then he worked in Africa with the World Health Organization on infectious diseases including malaria, cholera, and HIV/AIDS. He did that for about 10 years. When he returned in the early ‘90s, he really didn’t have plans for what he was going to do. He started hearing about this epidemic of violence. He looked at maps and graphs of violence and saw that it was behaving like other infectious diseases he had been preventing and stopping in Africa. He came up with the idea to apply the public health model to try to reduce violence. It was first tested in 2000 in the West Side of Chicago and we saw a 67% reduction in homicides and shootings in that first year. It has since been replicated in 18 communities in Chicago, seven cities outside Chicago or Illionis, and eight countries. So far the Chicago, Baltimore, and New York programs have all been independently tested.

Do you think this is a model that can work in any community, of any size? What about communities with different ethnic or cultural backgrounds?

[The model] has been piloted, tested, and evaluated with communities with the highest levels of violence. It is really designed for communities with a high concentration of violence. We’ve had questions from areas with no particular concentration and without a high enough scale of violence, but it isn’t designed for those communities. The model can be adapted for various cultures. We just had a staff member come back from Syrian refugee camps (in Jordan and Turkey) training them on the use of the model in those temporary communities. We believe it must be tested and evaluated, but the basic principles can be used in any situation with that high concentration of violence.

It seems you run predominately on a model of partnership and building a reusable model. How much oversight is there at locations outside of your main location in Chicago?

We continue to provide training and technical assistance. It is an ongoing partnership. We require continual data from partners so they can monitor and adapt as needed and we can see the effectiveness of the model. That includes both people coming to Chicago and onsite locations [training].

What must someone do to become a CV partner?

Once we’ve determined it could be effective, we have a number of requirements – the first is fidelity to the model. They must be working in the area with the greatest concentration of violence. They must be working with the right population (targeting highest risk individuals) – like gang members, [those who have] a gun or access to guns, and ex offenders. So they must be in the right place, with the right people, and the right staff. For our staff we use credible messengers – members of community who have the connections necessary.
We do also ask organizations to have funding in place – multi-year funding. We also want an independent evaluator in place before. Right now we have more evaluations coming from Puerto Rico and a program in a juvenile prison in London (this one they want to expand to other prisons in London). We want an evaluator in place so we can judge impact and effectiveness.

What do you think is the single greatest thing an individual can do to stem violence in their community or school?

There’s really four things a person can do:

  1. Engage in practices that allow them to regulate their own emotions so they can deal with conflict in a nonviolent way—being mindful of one’s own capacity for violence and mitigating that.
  2. [Have a] willingness to model nonviolence and intervene when violence is happening (for example, say to a friend getting riled up that there is a better alternative). We want it to be just as acceptable to say “don’t pull out your gun” as it is to say “you’re too drunk, give me your keys”—as long as it is early enough in the process.
  3. Do what you can to change a culture that promotes violence as accepted—speak out to say there are other ways to solve problems nonviolently. Think of the Antionette Tuff incident. The NRA has a slogan: “The only thing that can stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.” That is putting you in harm, but with the power of persuasion, compassion can stop terrible violence.
  4. Speak to legislators and policy makers and encourage them to use a public health approach to deal with violence. Not all resources should go to police, prisons, incarceration, and punishment. Get them to believe that violence is learned/acquired and can be unlearned—can be changed. Encourage policies and practices on a government level that go to a health approach rather than criminal justice approach.

Some people may have heard about CV, or at least the model, through The Interrupters. How did that film help promote the work of CV? Did it give the public any false ideas about the work you do?

That gave us a huge national audience when it aired on Frontline, and we continue to get donors from people seeing it—it was very helpful in that regard. It misrepresented, somewhat, what interrupters do. It shows a lot of work in the school—that is not the work they do—the long-time work in the schools, that isn’t the population they work with. It is more the work outreach workers do than what violence interrupters do. So, it was less about interrupters. What it also didn’t do very well: talk about the system that is in place, and interrupters are part of a system—people take just that piece. They are the point of a pyramid. Without outreach workers and without community programs to change the norms and thinking about what is accepted/expected, it isn’t effective—it didn’t show the whole system.

What do you consider your greatest success?

Our biggest success is in the leadership—that it has played in beginning to change the thinking about how to approach the problem. If you Google “public health approach to nonviolence” you get 5 million hits. The idea that you don’t need arrest/incarceration is revolutionary. We’ve had a limited impact in a handful of communities (although very strategic in some of the most dangerous), and we haven’t been able to scale the program in the way we’d like to, but we’re seeing more acceptance and advocacy to this approach.

How can someone support your work, aside from donations?

We don’t have the best advocacy—we need to develop and will be developing a more targeted campaign. We’re trying to put someone in our DC office who will be working on a policy level—it is a high funding priority. People can get connected to us (through our e-newsletter) so they can stay up to date with the work we’re doing. Advocate for this kind of work with your legislator. That is hard without a letter or organized campaign, but [start] encouraging alternatives to the criminal justice approach. The way to do this is to be a part of constituency on an ongoing basis.

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[UPDATED 9/11/13 to reflect that Cure Violence programs have been independently evaluated in Chicago, Baltimore, and New York.]