It is not often you meet someone who says they want to make a difference and is willing to put their life on the line to do so. HS News has found such a person in Eddie Bocanegra, a Chicago native, who is part of a unique group known as Violence Interrupters. The interrupters even step in between a would-be killer and their victim to try to avoid a shooting or killing.
Eddie, is on the front line of gang and urban violence and is on call 24/7 to reduce conflict and shootings. In Chicago alone the city recorded 239 murders from beginning of the year through July, 2011 and 29 percent of the offenders were Latino.
These ‘violence interrupters’ work under the umbrella of the CeaseFire program that uses a public health model to stop shootings and killings in local neighborhoods. CeaseFire, founded eleven years ago, is a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and uses a combination of street smarts and science to figure out where the next incident of violence is going to occur.
Eddie himself is no stranger to violence, so when he comes on the scene or as he says ‘hangs out’ with the guys, they know he is one of them. Having grown up in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood, he lives where he works and has learned the hard way to stay away from life on the street having served a 14 year prison sentence for murder.
Eddie was not recruited by gang bangers he says but rather joined them to belong to something bigger and better than him self. He felt out of place in school and at home so those ‘boys’ were another family to him. And that family approach is what he brings when he goes on the street to diffuse a situation after a gang shooting occurs in Chicago – usually he knows what is going to happen on the streets before it even happens. Eddie’s work is so impressive as well as those of other violence interrupters that a documentary has been made about this unique group.
The film titled “The Interrupters” comes from acclaimed director Steve James who gave us ‘Hoop Dreams’ and was produced by Alex Kotlowitz. The film premiered in New York in July and has received numerous awards including being an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.
This Hispanic Standout could of gone down many paths after going to prison at 17-years old and being released 14-years later but he knew where he would be needed the most - back on the streets of Chicago – stopping violence. Eddie wants to keep up the incredible work he is doing but also has aspiration to go to Harvard or University of Chicago for a degree in social work or public policy.
Check out Eddie helping kids through art when he isn’t on the street ‘interrupting violence’ and making a difference.