Mpls. looks to Chicago model to stem gun violence

Tim Dolan
Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan speaks to the media on Thursday, July 22, 2010 in Minneapolis. He announced a plan to punish with longer sentences criminals who use and sell guns.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Minneapolis city officials met Thursday with members of a Chicago-based organization called CeaseFire. So far this year, there have been a dozen more homicides in Minneapolis than in all of 2009. Most of the killings were shooting deaths.

City officials want to know if the CeaseFire model, which some say has helped reduce gun violence in Chicago, can work in Minneapolis.

So far this year, Minneapolis has seen 31 homicides, compared to more than 200 in Chicago. But CeaseFire outreach director Frank Perez says both cities share a critical common factor.

Perez presented the CeaseFire model to a group of neighborhood activists at a south Minneapolis community center, less than a half mile from where the city's latest homicide occurred. He says in most dangerous neighborhoods, both the victims and perpetrators of violence come from similar backgrounds.

"Puerto Ricans going to prison for killing other Puerto Ricans. Blacks are going to prison for killing other blacks. That's a real big problem," said Perez.

The solution also lies in those same communities. Perez says CeaseFire matches mostly private dollars with local churches, government and neighborhood organizations. Under the model, these groups hire and train people, many of whom are ex-gang members or convicts, to do street outreach.

Perez says the goal is to get credible advocates on the street to convince others that violence is not normal behavior. In one Chicago neighborhood, Perez says the group posted signs saying that it had been six days since the last shooting.

"That's positive. Positive reinforcement," said Perez. So when 30 days goes by and somebody gets shot, I got people coming in and they're all ... pissed off because somebody got shot. And they're asking, 'Who messed it up?'"

Many aspects of the CeaseFire model have been used in Minneapolis for years. The green-shirted African American men of MAD DADS are frequently at the scenes of shootings and community vigils for homicide victims, to help calm tensions. And before them, activist Spike Moss was out doing the same thing -- a point Moss made clear to Perez.

"The first thing you need to know, it's very disrespectful to all of us in this room. We've done all that," Moss said.

Moss is the former head of The City Inc., a north Minneapolis alternative school and the co-founder of a gang unity movement called United For Peace.

Moss says his efforts could have been more successful with more funding. He blamed what he calls a culture of racism in the city, and an unnamed group of city leaders, for keeping him from doing many of the things CeaseFire does.

"So we came here, really hoping some of those people here that's part of that plot could hear us. And some of those people here that keep taking our money could understand you're taking money we could have used to save lives," Moss said. "We're tired of seeing our children die. So, no disrespect to you [Perez]. But they're disrespecting us."

With that, Moss and a group of several others got up and left the room. A few people who remained expressed similar concerns. But many more said now is not the time to turn down help.

"So it looks like what we've been asking for, we got it. Now we don't know what to do with it? Give it to me. Hey, I know what to do," said Jariland Spence, who runs a storefront prayer center on West Broadway Ave. in north Minneapolis.

There, Spence counsels and prays for people who drop in looking for spiritual help.

"Count me in. Spell my name correctly. Let's do this," Spence said to applause from the audience.

Frank Perez says he wasn't surprised or offended by some of the concerns he heard at the meeting. He says he's heard similar backlash in other cities where CeaseFire's model has been presented.

Perez says he's not trying to tell people in Minneapolis who to include in the program. And he says the city invited him to come and make the presentation. But he says CeaseFire works best when a wide coalition of community-based groups works together.

The inclusion discussion will become a moot one without money to pay for the program. The city has applied for a federal grant, but hasn't heard yet if the city will get the funds.

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