At a time when shootings, stabbings and robberies are reported each week on the Chicago Transit Authority, one group hopes to step in to fight the crime, but who exactly are they?
The so-called "Violence Interrupters" are a group of around 50 former servicemembers and martial artists who will be riding the CTA with the purpose of patrolling cars, and hoping to curb crime.
The volunteers don't have weapons, but most are veterans and equipped with martial arts skills. They also have been trained to deescalate situations and curb violence, Hardiman said.
“We are not the police, we are not vigilantes, we don’t plan to hurt anybody,” Tio Hardiman said.
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Hardiman, the president and CEO of the Violence Interrupters, is taking a personal stand against the recent spike in crime on transit. The activist the group aims to fill a void that officers may not be able to get to.
“We are not against the police, but by the time somebody calls the police, a crime has already been committed,” Hardiman said.
The Violence Interrupters' effort, however, is not led by the city of Chicago, or Chicago police.
And the group is already facing criticism.
The Violence Interrupters represent another group of unarmed men patrolling the trains. There's already more than 200 unarmed police officers hired by the CTA at the time, and crime has continued to spike.
Earlier this month, CTA said it added more security guards at stations following an uptick in violent attacks on platforms and trains.
A Chicago Police spokesman urged CTA riders —would-be security volunteers or otherwise —not to step in as vigilantes and instead call 911 if they witness a crime or something suspicious.
“The police do not need private citizens taking law enforcement matters into their own hands,” CPD spokesperson Tom Ahern said.
A CTA spokesperson referred questions to the police department.
Hardiman is aware of the challenge they face and remains as committed as ever to tackling the problem. He told NBC 5 he has reached out to the CTA and the Chicago Police Department about joining forces, but says he has not heard back.
“Why won’t they partner with violence interrupters? We have about 50 staff that they can hire and partner with CTA. The reason I want to meet with CTA, I want to find out the hot times or hours where most of the incidents occur,” Hardiman said.
The group will ultimately look to de-escalate violence and conflict and intervene when needed. They hope their presence will be enough to make a difference.
“When they see these violence interrupters on the train I think some of them brothers might change their minds when it comes down to wanting to hurt somebody,” Hardiman said.
And those in the group say they are different, because many of them are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
“We are willing to die for righteousness," Demetrius Whitney, a member of the group said. "We are willing to jump in front of a bullet. You think we don’t know what we up against with the young guys that’s out here doing the mischief? We were those young guys. We changed our lives and we are willing to die for righteousness."