How block parties and urban gardening deter gun violence
This is an excerpt of an article by Asiaha Butler (R.A.G.E. Englewood) and Deborah Bennett (Polk Bros. Foundation) which originally appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business on June 29, 2018.
In the first weeks of last summer, Asiaha Butler’s block in Englewood saw a rash of shootings. Instead of running away, she and neighbors stayed and stood for peace.
They transformed a lot they previously reclaimed into a space of healing and peace. They hosted pop-up block parties throughout the summer where small children, teens and families could enjoy each other’s company without looking over their shoulders for bullets. They responded to sporadic episodes of violence with sporadic acts of peace. Through small steps, they transformed and stabilized their block.
Butler’s grass-roots group of concerned residents, business owners, students, parents and grandparents in Englewood is called the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or RAGE. Organizations like RAGE are making our city’s communities stronger. Strong communities deter violence. Neighbors look out for each other, elders aren’t afraid of young people, and public spaces are safe. This just makes sense. It’s also supported by recent research. New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey concluded that residents and community organizations have the capacity to control violence.
RAGE is one of 132 organizations funded by Chicago’s Partnership for Safe & Peaceful Communities because of this deterrence capacity. Collectively, they will receive $850,000, with grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. These grants are part of the partnership’s broader $40 million investment in violence reduction strategies. This summer, in 19 Chicago communities experiencing high levels of gun violence, thousands of people are participating in block parties, peace walks, back-to-school rallies, mentoring, sports tournaments, arts programming, peace circles with police and urban gardening in reclaimed vacant lots.
These activities are strengthening communities by creating social cohesion, building trust and fostering cooperation among residents and between residents and police. People are coming together and crowding out violence. They are exercising their human right to safety, which affects everything from school performance to business investment.
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