After working as CEO of Chicago Public Schools and then as U.S. education secretary under President Barack Obama, Duncan returned to Chicago to help found the anti-violence group CRED. | Sun-Times file
That had been their goal for 2020, too, but the pandemic threw that plan off course. Arne Duncan, co-founder of Create Real Economic Destiny, said the goal of his organization and other anti-violence groups “is to make sure 2020 was an aberration and not a trend.” After Chicago saw a dramatic spike in crime in 2020, one group is doubling down on its goal to cut violence by 20% next year.
At a virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon, Arne Duncan, the former U.S. education secretary who co-founded Create Real Economic Destiny, or CRED, said 2020 has been “very tough,” but “our collective goal is to make sure 2020 was an aberration and not a trend.”
Duncan, as well as speakers associated with Metropolitan Family Services, READI Chicago and others who’ve worked with Duncan’s group, joined him Tuesday to talk about violence reduction efforts.
“We have to commit, as a city, to getting to scale, if we want to see the kinds of reduction in violence we desperately need,” said Duncan, who also served as Chicago Public Schools’ CEO.
CRED came into 2020 with three years of double-digit violence reductions from 2017 to 2019 and set an “ambitious goal” for the year to bring Chicago more in line with the violence levels of other big cities, such as Los Angeles or New York City, by reducing violence by 20%, Duncan said.
“It doesn’t make any sense for us to be wildly higher than them, to be the absolute anomaly … It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” he said. “Our communities, our families, our children deserve so much better than that.”
But the pandemic, as well as the civil unrest the city grappled with this year and other “public health crises,” sent this year’s plan off course, Duncan said.
Reducing violence will require reaching out to more people in neighborhoods with higher rates of crime. In some areas, Duncan said, CRED is lucky to reach a third of the men, in others, that number is around 10%.
Duncan’s group uses what he has called “street outreach teams” to approach young men and get them to take part in CRED’s mentoring and support programs. Those who agree get the help of teams of adults who offer counseling, education, job training and job placement. Some of the “life coaches” are ex-offenders themselves.
Duncan said the organization has had success with two main strategies to reduce violence and may use them in 2021. The first, called “flip,” focuses on hot spots of violence in the city during the summer months; when the people who take part in CRED are working, the number of shootings in those areas drop dramatically.
The group also uses “non-aggression agreements” that can later be turned into peace treaties between cliques — those agreements help reduce rivalries, and while they don’t guarantee peace in a neighborhood, “they are a very significant strategy in terms of reducing the shooting,” Duncan said.
Statistics from a Chicago Police Department report released earlier this month showed nearly 3,800 people had been shot in Chicago from the start of the year through the end of November, compared to roughly 2,400 shooting victims during the same period in 2019 — a 58% increase.
Police reported 716 murders through the end of November, a 54% increase from the 464 murders during the same time period in 2019, according to that report.
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