Violence Interrupter : Local Hero’s Mission

Eddie Bocanegra is part of a unique and elite group known as “violence interrupters” in the organization CeaseFire. He works in areas of Chicago that some refer to as war zones. From January through July 2011, the city recorded 239 murders; 18 percent of victims and 29 percent of offenders were Latino.

CeaseFire, founded in 2000, applies the principles of public health to the brutality of the streets. Founder Gary Slutkin believes that violence mimics infections like tuberculosis and AIDS and suggests that the response ought to mimic the way these diseases are treated: by preventing violence from being transmitted from person to person. His strategy approaches violence as a learned behavior and attempts to control epidemics of violence by changing the norms of behavior.

Eddie Bocanegra, a 34-year-old Chicago native, has been a violence interrupter for two years. Violence interrupters intervene in conflicts throughout the city on an around-the-clock basis and even step in between a would-be shooter and victim to try to defuse a volatile situation—and prevent any gunfire. They also work with CeaseFire’s outreach workers to counsel and mentor individuals who are most at risk of committing an act of violence and stage shooting responses to reinforce the unacceptability of violence in the community.

Like many of those involved in CeaseFire, Eddie Bocanegra is an ex-offender. He spent 14 years in prison for a murder he committed when he was just 17. Haunted by this action, he feels his CeaseFire work is part of his penance. He hopes to keep others from making the mistakes he did. “Half of my life, I was in prison. That’s why I do what I do now. To me, it’s a personal thing,” he says.

Eddie Bocanegra is most deeply disturbed by the effects of violence on children. He spends much of his time with younger children in an effort to both keep them off the streets and give them support. Eddie Bocanegra’s work and dedication is highlighted in a new documentary, “The Interrupters,” by acclaimed director Steve James and producer Alex Kotlowitz. The movie follows Eddie Bocanegra and two other CeaseFire outreach workers in their roles on the streets of Chicago, revealing their violent pasts and their efforts to now inspire journeys of hope and redemption.

The program has results to back up its approach: A recent study by the Department of Justice found that in six of seven Chicago neighborhoods where CeaseFire has been on the ground, shootings or attempted shootings decreased by 16 percent to 27 percent more than in comparable neighborhoods. In addition to his work with CeaseFire, Eddie Bocanegra has started a support group for mothers who have lost children to violence, and he teaches art in schools and summer programs. He is working toward a degree in social work.

Comments are closed.