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New ideas in fighting violence, finding forgiveness

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The world needs innovative ways to combat violence. Two of the speakers at PopTech, the conference that aims to present world-changing ideas, shared hopeful news from both the United States and Africa that cycles of violence can be broken.

Gary Slutkin looks at street violence through the eyes of a public health worker who tries to understand how a disease is spread. Violence must be choked off at some point to break the cycle, he says.

Dr. Slutkin, trained as an epidemiologist, founded Ceasefire Chicago, which sends community workers (he calls them "violence interrupters") out on the streets to intervene before a dispute can turn homicidal.

One of the Ceasefire workers reenacted an incidence for the PopTech audience, showing how he uses his cell phone to call first one, then the other aggrieved party to prevent a shooting. The street worker's last words are: If you decide later that this isn't resolved, check back me before you do anything.

Ceasefire Chicago uses mapping technology to plot out Chicago's violence hot spots. It has seen impressive results, as shootings and other acts of violence have shrunk by two-thirds. The Monitor laid the program out in more detail last June.

Slowly, Slutkin says, what seems "normal" to those living in a neighborhood can be transformed. When violence becomes abnormal and unacceptable, the tide has turned.

Public health campaigns have shown they can change thinking, he says, noting successes such as anti-smoking and seat-belt crusades. "We know how to change norms," he says.

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