A longtime pioneer of Chicago’s anti-violence movement has been tapped by the Biden administration to help address the nation’s gun violence epidemic, which CDC statistics show has risen over the last two years.
Eddie Bocanegra began his work in Chicago as an outreach worker at the Chicago-based violence prevention program Ceasefire. He went on to start the Urban Warriors program with the YMCA, which connects youth with military veteran mentors. Bocanegra also began READI Chicago as a senior director at Heartland Alliance. That program offers intensive resources for people at high risk for violence.
Bocanegra has now taken leave from Heartland Alliance to take a position as senior adviser for the Community Violence Intervention office at the U. S. Department of Justice.
Bocanegra sees his appointment to this new advisory role as an indicator that the Biden administration is serious about addressing gun violence.
“For the first time we have an administration in our country that is really prioritizing this issue,” Bocanegra said. “The administration is allowing someone with my lived experience — also coupled by the experience that I have by implementing these programs — [allowing] us to inform some of the decisions that we could make, that would engage policy issues, and where we could allocate our resources to have a bigger bang for our buck.”
Bocanegra brings not only his years of creating programs for those most vulnerable to violence, but also his understanding of the issues that contribute to that vulnerability.
“There’s been many initiatives, many programs that would say ‘we work with the highest risk, we work with young people.’ And yes, young people tend to also be at risk. But for the most part, the data tells us that when you look at cities like Chicago, well over 80% of the victims and perpetrators are actually those that are 18 years and older. So that means the resources have to be allocated for that population.”
Bocanegra said he is also hoping to increase understanding that there is no quick fix for reducing gun violence.
“Just because you might have a program [that] doesn’t eradicate, doesn’t erase all the years of trauma that these men and women have experienced. So we need services that are going to go beyond a six-month program or 12-month program. We need to go much deeper because progress is not linear. People will have setbacks, people will relapse. And we also need to think about what are the ecosystems in which these men and women actually operated.”
It is important to note, said Bocanegra, that while some similarities exist across states and cities, anyplace with significant gun violence has its own unique set of challenges.
“You could have the strictest policy issues around guns, as an example, and it doesn’t seem to deter people from picking up a gun. I think what we’re not focusing on is why people pick up guns to begin with. And what is the role of law enforcement. I mean, just last year, the year before that, record highs of how many guns have been taken out of our streets. And yet despite that, we still see an increase of shootings in our communities. And that tends to be true for many other cities that are neighboring other states that have more lax policies around gun legislation as an example.”
Bocanegra said whether or not any American has been personally affected by gun violence, we all pay a price for it.
“The average cost based on studies that have been done, when somebody is killed on average, it costs between $10-$15 million for that incident … So that could be money that right now as we’re grappling with these issues around social services or the inequities like that, that could have been money that we could have been putting into those spaces to support families across the state,” he said. “If you’re a person of faith, if you’re a person who cares about human beings, it’s important that we also recognize that many of these communities, many of these people don’t have the exact choices that many other people actually do. And so they’re grappling with a number of different things. And it’s important that we just really meet people where they’re at and try to assess, how do you build a community in the context in where they’re living?”