In May, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced a new violence-prevention strategy ahead of Memorial Day weekend that included youth engagement events held by community organizations along with an increased police presence and help from City agencies. The plan was funded in part by a multimillion-dollar investment to more than 150 organizations by Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities (PSPC) to prevent violence during the Memorial Day weekend and in June. Johnson has also named Garien Gatewood the deputy mayor of community safety, a newly created position.

Overall, the strategy marks a shift from a reactive, law-enforcement approach to one that centers prevention as its primary goal. The approach—and the uptick in violence over Memorial Day weekend that happened this year in spite of outreach efforts—raises the question of how long violence prevention strategies take to have a measurable impact.

Elected officials in Chicago have long been faced with how to reduce violence, and each new mayor has forged their own strategy. Their approaches have varied across the years as experts, community leaders, and government officials attempted to block pathways that perpetuate crime and violence. 

Some initiatives have been focused on youth engagement, since young people exposed to violence have a higher likelihood of recreating those cycles.

Other approaches include violence prevention methods such as Safe Passage, which was created in direct response to the 2009 killing of 16-year-old honor-roll student Derrion Albert, who was caught in a brawl on his way home from school. Safe Passage’s initiative deploys adult community members to stand outside along routes to schools, ensuring students can arrive and depart safely. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has recently taken a similar approach to Safe Passage: in May, he announced the launch of a Citywide Crisis Prevention and Response Unit (CPRU), which deploys neighborhood “Peacekeepers” who are trained to resolve conflicts and de-escalate potentially violent situations. 

Vaughn Bryant, who developed Safe Passage in his former role as deputy officer at the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), spoke with The TRiiBE about what approaches to violence prevention have proven to be most impactful. Bryant is currently the Executive Director at Metropolitan Peace Initiatives (MPI), which convenes a network of local community-based organizations. 

“What we know works, just based on the research, is what we call ‘community violence intervention,’ which is street outreach. So it’s really targeting the people who are most at-risk for gun violence,” Bryant said. 

The target profile includes men around the age of 27 who do not have a high school diploma or GED, and who may have grown up around or were involved in a street organization or clique, and carry a gun.

“Those are the people that we’re looking for,” Bryant said. “So we take guys who have come from that life, who turned their lives around, and use them to recruit the guys that are most vulnerable to gun violence.” 

Conflict mediation is just one aspect of violence prevention. Changing the quality of life for individuals and communities most susceptible to violence can create a more sustainable and long term solution. MPI does this by providing wraparound services that include therapists and other outreach workers. 

“We’re saying, not only do we need to [resolve conflicts], but we need to put people on a path to a dignified life,” Bryant explained. “Because you and I work or wake up every day with a purpose, we know what we want to get done, we know what our career is. Everybody kind of has to have that, because then there’s less incentive to be in some petty conflict on the street.”


Kofi Ademola, co-founder and adult mentor of the youth-led anti-violence and abolitionist organization GoodKids MadCity (GKMC), said he sees conflict resolution as violence interruption and not prevention.

“We don’t want to just do violence interruption and intercede after a conflict has already happened, right? We want to do true prevention, which is giving people who are perpetrators of violence the tools and alternatives [other than] harming each other, and incentivizing peace,” Ademola said. GKMC has for years advocated passage of a PeaceBook Ordinance that would reallocate 2 percent of the police department’s budget to violence prevention efforts. Mayor Johnson has vowed to pass the ordinance.

Despite varying approaches to violence prevention such as gun buy-back programs and mentorship opportunities, Ademola said he’s yet to see a shift in the toxic circumstances that continue to be replicated.

“All of those models are effective, and they’re good, but it doesn’t stop the replication of death culture. It doesn’t stop the replication of each new generation picking up where the last one left off,” he said. “Because they’re all dealing with the cycle of trauma and poverty that hasn’t been disrupted.” 

Ademola also noted the importance of mediation and preventative programs being stewarded by members of the community, who are involved with the circumstances that create violence in their respective neighborhoods, as opposed to outsiders. He said that paying individuals who are directly involved with conflict, and have agreed to a peace treaty to continue to keep the peace, will influence others to do the same. 

This approach has worked in the past. In 1992, several gangs in Los Angeles agreed to a truce and ceasefire shortly before the uprisings sparked by the acquittal of the police officers that beat Rodney King. According to the Los Angeles Times, police records showed a decrease in gang-related violence in the months that followed the treaty’s enactment. In the same year, a gang truce was announced in Chicago following the shooting death of seven-year-old Dantrell Davis. While the truce was not effective in every part of the city, Cabrini Green and Altgeld Gardens saw a visible change in safety. 

Research also supports this strategy: a 2019 report by a working group of the American College of Surgeons recommended taking a public-health approach to community engagement as a key step to reducing gun violence in Chicago. “[W]e came to realize that the community of firearm owners are often approached as a part of the problem, but less commonly approached as a part of the solution,” the report’s authors wrote. They found that community engagement strategies are “a core step” in public health approaches to violence that can make “a critical difference” in their effectiveness.

Ademola said that relationships are at the core of such engagement. “I look at Chicago specifically, right, it’s not all, but it’s primarily about relationships,” Ademola said. “A lot of these young people who are hurting each other, they know each other intimately, they went to grammar school together, they went to high school, they grew up blocks from each other.” 

Mayor Johnson has promised to expand youth employment this summer as a means of preventing violence. The question, then, is how to maximize the effectiveness of jobs as violence prevention.

“I think that they have to do targeted recruiting,” Bryant said. “We have a lot of opportunities between After School Matters, One Summer Chicago, the Parks Department — like, we have one of the best systems in the country as it relates to youth opportunities. So for me, it’s not more opportunities, it’s getting those kids who are on the brink of disengagement into those opportunities on a regular basis.”


When young people enter the conversation, prevention is no less complex. Ademola described the importance of introducing education around preventative practices such as restorative justice as early as middle school, as a means to tackle the culture of violence that is commonplace for young people growing up in disenfranchised communities. He believes the transformative justice pipeline includes a continued curriculum that stewards the unlearning of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and harmful behaviors rooted in misconceptions about masculinity. 

“They have to learn it at an early age, and it has to be incentivized. And that’s part of the work, and . . . they’re not doing that on the state level, they’re not doing that on the county level, they’re not doing that on the city level. That work just isn’t happening to that degree.” Ademola said. 

Sustained funding is critical to the success of violence-prevention programs, too. A study published in 2022 by researchers at Northwestern University found that a two-year budget standoff between then-governor Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly in 2016-2017 was linked to a spike in violence during that same period. As a result of the impasse, after-school engagement programs and violence intervention and mediation programs ceased operations. “The fall and rise of the budget seemed to match almost identically to the rise and fall of homicides in Chicago” between 2017 and 2018, study co-author Maryann Mason told the Reader.

How long will it take for Chicago to see an impactful change surrounding violence prevention? Bryant, using Los Angeles and New York as examples, says 10 to 15 years. He cites Los Angeles Police Department’s consent decree, which officially entered law in 2001, but was a result of the aforementioned incident involving Rodney King in 1992. 

“They invested in outreach, or what they call violence intervention work back then, and it took them 20 years to get to a point where they are now. So they have, let’s say, around seven or eight homicides for every 100,000 people, we have about 20 to 23,” Bryant estimated. Chicago also has a consent decree, which was enacted in 2019. 

“We absolutely learned from other cities,” Bryant added, while acknowledging that Chicago has pioneered preventative practices that other cities have also implemented. “In the same way that people came and looked at us and advanced the ball, I think we’re at a point now where we learn from them and we’re advancing the ball, we just got to sustain the investment so that we can get the fruit.”


is the South Side Weekly’s community engagement editor.