Crime may not be as prominent during the winter months, but that doesn’t stop these former gang members from working to fight gang violence.
“What’s driving violence yesterday, today and tomorrow—it’s going to be gangs,” said peacemaker Juan Scott. “The majority of the stuff that starts happening in the summertime starts brewing in the wintertime.”
Former gang members, dubbed the “peacemakers,” are focusing on learning what current gang members are planning.
Scott and Curt Toler work in the South Side’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
“Going into their basements, talking to them, seeing what’s really going on,” Scott said of his duties as a peacemaker.
The two said they talk with members about what happens on Facebook, what happens at high schools and find out about “beefs” between gangs and who might shoot who.
According to Chicago Police, gangs are concentrated mostly on the south and west sides of the city.
“Even though crime is down, even though shooting and murders are down-- those are still the ones that lead the pack,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
But Deputy Chief Leo Schmitz, who commands the 7th District of Englewood, says within the gang territories in his area, there has been a development of hundreds of gang factions.
“That's what has changed since I came on the job,” Schmitz said. “There has been numerous factions, hundreds of factions.”
The peacemakers say it’s within those factions, which change block by block, that the violence occurs.
“These guys are emotional killers, so they act off of emotion,” said Patrick Vance. “His baby mama got slapped, his sister got punched--you know, you're going to react off of that. If he has a gun by him, he's going to grab it.”
But police insist they have strategies to combat the violence, and this year’s crime stats suggest they’re working.
In each one of the south and west side districts, crime is down or flat, officials said.
The peacemakers feel they are part of what has worked, but they’re not satisfied.
“To say crime is down, say that to the mother who lost her child yesterday,” Toler said. “It may be down, but it’s not over. We want to put an end to crime here in Chicago.