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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

How Violence Interrupters Brokered An End To Anti-Black Attacks In A Latino Neighborhood

Outreach workers intervened after a series of targeted attacks on Black residents in predominantly Latino neighborhoods.

Violence interrupters worked to ease tensions between Black and Latino residents in recent weeks.
Chicago CRED
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Violence interrupters helped ease tensions when anti-Black violence erupted in some predominantly Latino communities at the start of June.

What started with residents protecting their neighborhoods from looting spiraled into incidents of violence, with officials saying Black people were taunted and attacked in some Latino neighborhoods. Tensions rose between Black and Latino communities in Pilsen, Little Village, Lawndale and suburban Cicero.

As soon as the attacks began, violence interrupters from social service organizations — including UCAN, EnLace and Chicago CRED — used their longterm relationships to bring those at risk of engaging in violence to the bargaining table to end the conflict. The outreach workers have years-long relationships and credibility with many of the people on the street in each community.

“At the end of the day all we trying to do is guide them to the right thing. But I come from the life that they come from,” said Reggie Woods, a street outreach worker with UCAN. “So they’re not looking at me like I’m a guy who’s telling them not to do something that I ain’t did already. Or go down a street I ain’t went down already.”

Woods said the outreach workers and those involved in gangs understand the history of racial tensions between Lawndale and Little Village. They knew that at the drop of a hat, the violence seen earlier this month could have escalated, so they all agreed to seek peace and unity.

“We got good relations with a lot of the Brown organization and street guys in Little Village,” Woods said. “We was able to come together and broker some type of peace agreement where we could have a couple of meetings, a couple marches to make sure everybody see us in solidarity.”

Frank Perez, the director of violence intervention and prevention services at UCAN, said the outreach organizations and gangs were able to come to terms after 72 tireless hours.

Though there was nothing wrong with people protecting businesses from looting, people in gangs could see violence had gotten out of hand when random people, including elderly people and young people, were falling victim to attacks, Perez said.

“That’s not justified, and they agreed. Even their own leadership of those groups was a little taken aback,” Perez said. “They saw it for what it was and they agreed they will not do that. Almost immediately … it came to a halt.”

Woods said people on the streets in Latino and Black neighborhoods have suffered from racism and police violence. That shared struggle could become the basis for solidarity between the two communities in the fight for equity, Woods said.

“We already gotta fight against injustice from the police in the street. So now we definitely can’t go against one another when we already the minorities,” Woods said. “At the end of the day they definitely understood our plight, and we understood what they was going through.”

Residents of North Lawndale and Little Village — also known as South Lawndale — have united under a banner of One Lawndale.

A series of marches between the neighboring communities have been a symbol of peace and kinship between the Black and Brown residents. With the help of the Firehouse Community Arts Center, new murals bearing the One Lawndale slogan are being painted across the neighborhood on vacant spaces and on boarded-up windows of shops that had been vandalized.

“We’re trying to turn the bad into the good,” Perez said. “Both the Black and Brown community have suffered a lot of the injustices. We cannot be divided; we have to be together.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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