Working mainly in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago and its suburbs, CeaseFire promotes nonviolence with such things as leaflets, bumper stickers, and signs announcing how many days have passed since the last shooting. It works with local ministers and other community leaders to organize neighborhood marches, rallies, and vigils after shootings.
Meanwhile, outreach workers recruit and work with a small number of youths deemed most at risk of shooting or getting shot. "Violence interrupters," and sometimes the outreach workers themselves, intervene when violence breaks out, often seeking out a victim's friends and relatives to discourage retaliation.
CeaseFire typically hires ex-gang members who have done prison time, found religion, and joined the campaign to earn a living and give back to their old neighborhoods. It trains them how to resolve conflicts, connect with clients, and stay out of trouble. But their success depends heavily on their insider's knowledge of gang culture and on the credibility they enjoy on the streets.
A slender, personable man of 49, Brown grew up on Chicago's West Side, where he mastered "short cons" like the pigeon drop and three-card monte. He also robbed, beginning with the holdup of a mail carrier when he was 16. He spent almost two decades in prison for a variety of crimes, including armed robbery and aggravated assault. Three years ago, out of prison and working as a drug counselor, he began working for CeaseFire.
Most of Brown's clients are members of local "crews," the small, loosely organized neighborhood gangs that rule Chicago's poor African-American communities. Many have already done jail time. "I have an overwhelming sense of compassion to see guys not go through what I went though," he says.