Like shootings, Chicago’s anti-violence efforts remain despite pandemic

In spite of a pandemic and a statewide stay-at-home order, shootings in Chicago remain a constant. But so do anti-violence efforts in the city’s neighborhoods most plagued by gunfire.

Albeit with a few tweaks to strategies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, community outreach work is still being performed in an effort to tamp down the city’s entrenched violence.

“It’s definitely a different dynamic because we’ve never dealt with a pandemic like this, aside from the violence, because that’s a pandemic,” said Deon Patrick, the outreach supervisor at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago’s site in Austin.

On Wednesday, 12 people were shot across Chicago, making it the most violent day the city has seen since the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect over the weekend.

Over the first two-and-a-half months of 2020, killings in Chicago are up 43%. As of early Sunday, 90 homicides had been recorded in Chicago so far this year, according to a Chicago Sun-Times tally. In the CPD’s Austin District, where Patrick and his team concentrate their efforts, shootings are up 56% so far this year, according to CPD data.

Employees of the institute are considered “essential” under the state order, which allows them to move around, according to an organization spokeswoman.

Deon Patrick (left) in 2014.Sun-Times file photo

The outreach teams need to be outside, too. The people who Patrick and his team are trying to reach — those who have a higher likelihood to be involved in violence — are still out and about, he said.

“We don’t actually knock [on] doors, most of our target population is outside,” Patrick said. “So we try to get high-risk individuals in the community that are hanging out and who are most at risk of actually getting shot or being the victim of violence.”

Along with Austin, the institute operates sites in West Garfield Park and Back of the Yards and the three offices work collaboratively at times. Shortly before speaking with the Sun-Times Thursday, Patrick and his team from Austin were assisting the West Garfield Park outreach workers after two people were shot near Madison and Keeler.

Beyond his day-in-day-out efforts, Patrick is deeply connected to his work.

He served 21 years in prison after he was found guilty in a 1992 double murder in Uptown. In 2014, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dismissed the charges against him. Patrick sued the city, seven CPD officers and two prosecutors. A federal jury awarded him more than $13 million in 2017.

“It’s definitely personal,” he said. “With me, I feel I have a moral obligation to try to change the narrative for myself as well as try to change the dynamic for the kids that are growing up in our communities now.”

Earlier in the day Thursday, Patrick and his team were at Lake and Central to pass out information on how people can best protect themselves from the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve just been passing out information about the risk and what it takes to get rid of this stuff, what we can do to get it back under control,” he said. “We’ve started seeing less and less people out every day. I think more people are buying in the more it’s being expressed on the news and [in] other avenues that are getting the word out.”