Joey Rodger, center, chats with Warren Smith, left and Peter Braithwaite, right, at the launch of the Evanston Alliance to End Violence. The breakfast meeting was sponsored by the Tawani Foundation

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At a quiet meeting on a late fall Friday, the Evanston Alliance to End Violence was born, when Peaceable Cities convened a meeting of leaders of community organizations whose programs address violence. Collaboration was the theme of this breakfast conversation, as representatives of the organizations discussed how they collaborate with other agencies in the community.

Peaceable Cities Board President Loyce Spells said, “We’ve been to meetings; we’ve talked about what we’ve talked about. And yet, we’re here. … Peaceable Cities Evanston wants to make a network of peacemakers and peacekeepers. … a coalition connected institutionally but not by individuals.

“You are already successful without us. … But what if there was such a thing that addresses violence not only in the summer, not only past-tragedy?  That is us. We believe we can create the most peaceable city in America. If it can’t be done here, it may not be able to be done anywhere.”

The very complexity of the issue of violence underscores the need for a stronger alliance, said Mr. Spells. 

At the Nov. 15 meeting, leaders of several organizations used post-its on a whiteboard to describe their programs as addressing prevention, intervention or reconciliation. Examples of programs in Evanston aimed at preventing violence were the after-school programs at Family Focus and Evanston Township High School (through Youth Organizations Umbrella), Project SOAR at the McGaw Y, job training and teen programs at the Library, the Center for Civic Engagement at Northwestern University and the neighborhood watches and block clubs that the Evanston Police officers often help create.

Intervention programs include the street outreach provided through the City, substance-abuse counseling offered by PEER Services and the alternative-to-suspension programs offered by the Moran Center.

Reconciliation programs include the racial justice programs at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, expungement services and the violence intervention and prevention (VIP) offered through the Moran Center social-services counseling through the Evanston Police Department.

Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum, an Evanston resident and professor of criminology, law and justice and director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at University of Illinois at Chicago, “thinks about crime and disorder from an academic standpoint, said Joey Rodger, executive director or Peaceable Cities. He was invited to speak at the meeting, because he can “bridge the gap between research and practice. … He not only is an expert nationally and internationally, but he knows us. He comes to us caring about our own city.”

The Genesis of Violence

A crime needs three things, Dr. Rosenbaum said: a motivated offender, a suitable victim and the absence of guardianship. Much work has been done on ways for individuals to protect themselves, but there is now research on how to protect a neighborhood.

“As a community, we tend to rely too much on police,” he said. “We cannot arrest our way out of violence and disorder. … We need self-regulating neighborhoods and partnerships with the police – ‘co-produced safety.’ …  In the end, the public is what contributes to healthy behavior and safe environments.”

The danger in relying too much on defensive strategies, Dr. Rosenbaum said, is that they come down to “how we can circle the wagons and project what we have. … We spend too little time thinking about who the bad guys are.

 “I’m always surprised that educated people are befuddled by violence,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.  Eight clusters of factors engender violence: poverty and unemployment; the out-migration of the middle class from inner cities; urban segregation in such areas as housing, employment and schools; the failure of urban schools to prepare students for a service economy; family breakdown; community breakdown; the growth of a mass culture that endorses violence and the objectification of women in video games and the like; and the ready availability of violence facilitators like guns and drugs.

Protective Strategies

Crime-suppression strategies that work for adult offenders may not have the desired results when applied to teens and youth. Turning up the heat on crime hot-spots, for example, may decrease crime, but widening the net to snare at-risk juveniles has the opposite effect, said Dr. Rosenbaum. Throwing juveniles into the criminal justice system can increase the probability that they will commit crimes as adults.

Intervention strategies tend to rely on single approaches, Dr. Rosenbaum said, “but we need many approaches – marches, neighborhood watches. … The community must establish values – norms about what’s acceptable.” At the same time, he said, “The no-snitch culture must be destroyed.

“The earlier the intervention, the greater the effect and the more money we save,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.  Because the payoff from early intervention is often decades away, he said, many politicians are unwilling to endorse it or commit funding to it “because the payoff is after the next election.”

Dr. Rosenbaum said several preventive strategies, such as pre-natal care, working with teen mothers, good preschools and having children read for 90 minutes a day are good preventive strategies. Many of those are already in place here, though they are not all available to all members of the community. 

Karen Singer, CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, said, “We don’t spend enough time talking about crimes being committed in the home. Our perspective is that [violence] is manifested in street crime. It is often perpetrated by a male in the household, and the criminal justice system does not hold these perpetrators accountable.”

“We still have a long way to go,” said Dr. Rosenbaum. “It goes back to community norms. We have to communicate that domestic violence is a crime.”

“It has to be a community value,” said Ms. Singer. “It has to be part of the community discussion.”

Echoing Dr. Rosenbaum’s comment about community norms, Ms. Rodger said, “When we started Peaceable Cities and said we wanted to have a community without violence, some people rolled their eyes. We asked, ‘What is acceptable? One child per class bullied? One crime of domestic violence in each ward?’ When we put it that way, most people got on board.”

The Evanston Alliance to End Violence will meet again in February to continue the discussion on collaborative ways to end violence in this community.

‘Can You Imagine Me?’ and FAAM: Examples of Successful Collaboration

“”Imagine Me,”” a program in exercise and nutrition at Family Focus last summer, and FAAM, the ongoing basketball program of the Fellowship of African American Men, were two examples of collaborations given at the inaugural meeting of the Evanston Alliance to End Violence.

JoAnn Avery of Family Focus said 30 children learned about nutrition and exercise in this summer program, whose partners included St. Francis Hospital, the McGaw Y and North Shore Links. The children learned to swim, read labels on grocery items and make better nutritional choices, she said. At the end of the program, the children participated in a triathlon, and each one received a new bicycle, helmet and lock. The Evanston Police Department registered each bicycle free of charge.

FAAM, which Bill Logan cofounded, has partners throughout the community: The City gives the organization space in the gym at Fleetwood-Jourdain for basketball games and the field house at Mason Park for their program of academic support. School District 65 provides space at Chute School for games as well, and students from Northwestern University help with tutoring, he said.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...