Cedric Hawkins, Strategic Initiatives Manager for Chicago CRED, (left) and Terrance Henderson, outreach supervisor with Chicago CRED, (right) stood outside Thursday during a walk in Pullman's Roseland/West neighborhood.

Chicagoans enjoyed beautiful weather but saw 59 shootings over the long Memorial Day weekend, the fourth year in a row the city has marked the traditional start of summer with more than 40 shootings.

Violence in the city remains near post-COVID-19 levels.

From 5pm Friday to 5am Tuesday, there were 59 shootings across the city, 11 of which were fatal. One person was stabbed to death. The tally is only slightly lower than last Memorial Day, when the city recorded 51 shootings and 13 deaths.

Mayor Brandon Johnson has touted $2.5 million in spending on anti-violence programs. Governor JB Pritzker this month announced $11 million in funding for an anti-violence program that includes a 30-person team of outreach workers.

On Tuesday, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan waited for statistics on how the group is performing. Duncan's nonprofit, Chicago CRED — Creating Real Economic Destiny — is one of more than a dozen organizations recruiting and training outreach teams from the city's most violent enclaves.

Over the weekend, 500 “peacemakers,” served in 102 designated hotspots throughout the city, enclaves within the 14 neighborhoods that historically accounted for half the city's homicides. In areas where CRED workers are present in Pullman, West Pullman and Roseland, Duncan said there were two non-fatal shootings.

“Across the city, the numbers are dire, and it can't be normal,” Duncan said Tuesday, noting that one person was killed and three others injured in two shootings over the weekend in Lake View, historically one of the safest neighborhoods. .

“You can't judge something by one weekend, or a few incidents. Not just numbers,” said Duncan.

Thursday afternoon, Cedric Hawkins walked with a group of current and former gang members, pointing out a landmark in the West Pullman and Roseland section known to some as the “Wild Hundreds”.

A few square blocks – bounded roughly by 117 and 119 on either side of Perry Street in West Pullman – is Buff City, named for a member of the Black Students who was killed when Hawkins was a teenager.

A small slope along South Michigan Avenue divides Up the Hill and Down the Hill, marking the boundary between the two groups of Gangster Disciples.

“And the GDs who stay up on the hill don't like the GDs who stay down the hill,” said Hawkins, strategic initiatives manager for Chicago CRED. “And all of that can change from day to day.”

He pointed out closed schools and once bustling shops, and sites that meant the most to group members.

“That guy over there, he was shot right around this corner,” Hawkins said as the group made their way to State and 119, gesturing to a tall worker in a green vest.

“Nine times,” said one of the victims.

Cedric Hawkins, left, and Terrance Henderson, of Chicago CRED, took a walk Thursday in Roseland/Pullman. CRED is one of more than a dozen community organizations that share $11 million in state funds to try and prevent violence by employing local residents who are at high risk of being shot or shooting others.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Hard-earned knowledge of the streets is one of the qualifications for a dozen or so South Siders, and similar teams of peacemakers go out elsewhere over Memorial Day weekend.

This year, CRED is one of more than a dozen community organizations giving away $11 million in state funding to try and prevent violence specifically by employing residents who are likely to be shot, or shoot others. The FLIP CRED program — for Flatlining Violence Inspires Peace — is one of several that provides a $100 daily allowance for these peacekeepers.

FLIP and similar programs have nearly doubled in size thanks to funding from the Illinois Department of Human Services and local, federal, and philanthropic dollars amid a surge in violent crime that has coincided with the pandemic.

In the 6th Police District, encompassing West Pullman and Roseland, where the CRED team is based, there were seven shootings, two of which were fatal, up from three shootings and a single homicide in the district the last Memorial Day weekend.

But when FLIP workers deployed from February to May, hot spots targeted saw a 21% drop in shelling, compared with a 14% drop citywide in the same period. In 88 of the 102 hot spots, there were no shootings while FLIP workers were on duty, according to a report by the Center for Neighborhood Engaged Research & Science at Northwestern University.

The study notes that the data are from a small sample and not sufficient to draw a link between the presence of FLIP workers and shootings. But growing evidence suggests FLIP and outreach programs targeting those most implicated in violence can help curb homicide, said state Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago), who sponsored the Reimagine Public Safety Act and paved the way for state funding for style FLIP program.

“These people work in the hottest zones of the city, take big risks, and have a track record of success,” says Peters. “We have to make sure we try the things that work and stay away from the things that don't work.”

Anthony Riccio, former deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department, has seen FLIP and many of its predecessors come and go. Riccio pointed at the time the city put $2 million into CeaseFire, which employs former gang members as “violent offenders” to suppress the ongoing conflict. CeaseFire lost the city's funding amid the economic downturn in 2009, never gaining the trust of the top police or top officers, Riccio said.

“You can never quantify shooting that didn't happen, so I think it's hard to say they took anything down,” said Riccio. “I think a lot of officers would prefer money to be spent some other way. … I'd rather have two police officers than 30 violent bullies any day of the week.

Terrance Henderson, outreach supervisor with Chicago CRED, donned his jacket as he walked among other CRED Chicago members during Thursday's outreach walk in Roseland/West Pullman.

Terrance Henderson, outreach supervisor with Chicago CRED, wore a badge jacket as he and other CRED members took an outreach walk Thursday in Roseland/West Pullman.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

For their allowance, FLIP participants work eight-hour shifts from Tuesday to Saturday. Workers receive training in conflict resolution, but their credibility for mediating disputes and knowing when friction between groups leads to violence comes from engaging in street-level violence, said Terrance Henderson, manager of Outreach Operations for CRED. Some may still have their feet on the streets as CRED staff try to recruit them for their 18-month therapy and on-the-job training program.

Henderson said that police and residents in hot spots may not recognize when FLIP workers go from bad actors to peacemakers.

“There are a lot of people here who don't want to give us time,” Henderson said. “They are completely immersed in war and violence. It's here trying to make a change. Give them a little grace.”

The recruits for FLIP were drawn from a pool, nearly all of whom were black and Latinx men ranging from their teens to their 30s. They are identified by algorithms that analyze social networks, data on shootings and arrests, and knowledge gathered by outreach workers about players in ongoing conflicts. Statistically, they are 50 times more likely to be the shooter or victim than the average Chicagoan.

FLIP workers tend to be in their teens and 20s and are much more exposed to violence, so they are thought to be more capable of relating to some of the most active participants in gang conflicts, which often come from little beef.

Charles Bowers, 26, works for FLIP in Buff Town near where he grew up. He once sold drugs and ran with gang members. Standing on the porch of a house on Perry Street, he said he was able to defuse conflict between a gang member he had known since childhood and an old man with a gun.

“I saw he had a gun, and I stepped in, right between them,” Bowers said.

How did he not get shot?

“They're my people,” said Bowers. “I know them. They know me. They know I've been out there, I've done a lot of things. I changed it, but I'm still an ordinary person to them.”

Chicago CRED members held up signs and chanted Thursday as they walked through Roseland.

Chicago CRED members held up signs and chanted Thursday as they walked through Roseland.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times