Rally held to restore anti-violence funding
August 30, 2007 (WLS) -- Hundreds of people rallied in Chicago to save a program for which Governor Rod Blagojevich cut funding to pass the state budget.
The anti-violence program is called CeaseFire. Late Thursday afternoon, the governor of Illinois was standing firm, saying the budget-challenged state cannot afford the violence prevention.
But CeaseFire supporters, most of them from black and Latino neighborhoods that backed Blagojevich's re-election last year, are framing this issue as a "make or break" moment for the governor's political base.
One by one, the religious leaders urged the governor to restore $6.2 million in CeaseFire cuts. Halfway through the speeches, they were joined by longtime CeaseFire supporter Cardinal Frances George.
"CeaseFire has been effective and people are safe. People with lives now would not be alive if it had not been for the work of CeaseFire in our neighborhoods," said George, Archbishop of Chicago.
CeaseFire workers - many of them former gang members - have organized anti-violence marches in communities where shootings have occurred. They also intervene in gang disputes, trying to stop retaliatory shootings.
"They talked to me and told me not to do anything because it's not going to bring my brother back," said Theodore Torres, Jr., brother of a shooting victim.
Torres' younger brother, 18-year-old Emilio, was murdered near 36th and Wood on Aug. 22. The young man and his parents hoped to praise the CeaseFire program in a meeting scheduled Thursday in the governor's office. Blagojevich was not there.
"I can't understand why this wouldn't be a priority. This is our future we re talking about," said Angelita Santana, the mother of the victim.
Leticia Reyes, governor's aide, said Blagojevich was at another event concerning a healthcare initiative.
"We can't fund everything, and however worthy something might be, again, you've got it make choices," Blagojevich said previously.
At the Thompson Center rally, another Blagojevich aide gave the media copies of a state audit which questions more than $371 thousand in CeaseFire expenses and the program's overall effectiveness in reducing violence.
The audit concluded that "some of the funds did not go for the stipulated purposes".
And state senator Donne Trotter has criticized CeaseFire's hiring of former gang members to intervene in street disputes.
Trotter wrote, "the over $18.5 million given to operation ceasefire has done more to legitimize gang leaders' portfolios than actually stopping violence."
But CeaseFire supporters cannot understand why Blagojevich, whose administration began funding the anti-violence program in 2004, suddenly does not believe the effort is worth the money.
Thursday night on WTTW's Chicago Thursday night, the founder and CEO of Operation Ceasefire defended his program and its record of decreasing violence.
"These interrupters and outreach workers are doing very, very solid work, and they need to be supported and paid like any other professionals," said Dr. Gary Slutkin, Ceasefire.
Other religious leaders who spoke for CeaseFire Thursday morning said the governor should use money in the health care initiative to fund the program. They say homicide is the number one cause of death for Illinois residents under the age of 35. They also point out that treating gunshot survivors is a multimillion-dollar burden on the health care system in Illinois.
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