Project H.O.O.D.’s Violence Impact Team works to end retaliation killings in the South Side

Project H.O.O.D.’s Violence Impact Team prevents as many as 50 retaliation killings a month in the South Side

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In the middle of a cold December night several weeks ago, Pastor Corey Brooks got a call and knew the news would not be good. A teen had been shot on O-Block on the South Side of Chicago. The shooting took place hundreds of feet away from where the pastor has been holding a 100-day rooftop vigil to raise funds for a community center designed to transform lives. As the rumors flew, the pastor first heard that it was a drive-by shooting, then learned the truth that it was a senseless fight that ended with the pulling of a gun. 

The pastor felt a profound sense of regret that this shooting had not been averted. While he knows he cannot save every life, that does not lessen the pain of seeing a life end so meaninglessly. At the same time, he knew that he could not sit still for long since this killing could lead to more killings if preventive action was not taken. 

The family had just arrived at the hospital where they learned that the time of death had been called for their loved one. The pastor knew that at that moment that the family would be confronted with the age-old question of revenge and justice. Would they retaliate and kill or would they put their faith in Lady Justice?

Wherever there is a lack of faith in the justice system, the threat of retaliation runs high. As many have warned, "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." In the Wild West, where justice was not always a given, retaliation killings were as American as apple pie.

This same lack of faith exists in Chicagoland where so many murders go unsolved. In 2020, the Chicago Police Department cleared only 45% of 769 homicides. While the final figures have yet to come in for 2021, Chicago crossed the threshold of 800 murders several days ago. Using the clearance rate from 2020, there could be as many as 440 unsolved murders for 2021.

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One can point the finger at the Chicago Police or at the "snitches get stitches" culture, but that does not lessen the immediate need to address the retaliation threat. Pastor Brooks reached out to James Highsmith, the director of Project H.O.O.D.’s Violence Impact Team, who sent team members to the hospital where they monitored the aggrieved party. 

Several days later, Highsmith joined the pastor on the roof to reflect on this shooting. They were not alone; there were several visitors new to the South Side and the pastor asked Highsmith to explain why it was so crucial to prevent retaliation. 

"One of the most deadly parts about a shooting is the retaliation," said Highsmith. "Cause when it comes back…it’s not that they’re just shooting at one person. The way things are today, they go at the whole block. So if you live on that block, then they shooting at you."

If left unaddressed, anger can eat away the soul to the point where there is no care in the world, even if it means the loss of innocent lives. 

The pastor then asked Highsmith, who grew up on these streets and served time in prison, to explain why it was crucial for his team to show up at the hospital where the family of the shooting victim was grieving. 

"That is the peak of it all," said Highsmith. "Everyone there is emotionally charged. And what we do is not so much that we intervene. What we are doing is observing. We recognize who is the most hothead and who is the one we can…single out as one of the calm heads. The ones we can talk to, to use as a bridge, so to speak, to get inside and try to talk to these youngsters to try to avert retaliation."

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Everyone on Highsmith’s team, including Lavondale Glass and Varney Voker, are from the streets and this lends enormous credibility to their words and actions. Several times a week, the team meets on the second floor of the pastor’s church to share intelligence on everything that could lead to retaliation shootings: recent shootings, block parties, social media disses, the release of a gang member from prison, the anniversary of a shooting death, or even rap songs dissing others. 

They also work with the police and city officials; sometimes Highsmith’s team can go where others cannot and produce positive outcomes. 

Highsmith’s team has been credited with preventing as many as 50 retaliation killings a month and that is 50 less bodies in the ground and 50 less caseloads for the police department. Still, Chicago lost over a staggering 800 lives to murder in 2021. 

"I can’t claim success," said Highsmith. "As long as the shootings are taking place and people being killed and wounded throughout our community, I can never claim success."

But, for now, Highsmith and his team along with the pastor can find solace in knowing that the family of the slain teen has chosen to forgo retaliation. 

Follow along as Fox News checks in Pastor Corey Brooks each day with a new Rooftop Revelation

For more information, please visit Project H.O.O.D.

Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is "What Killed Michael Brown?" Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.

Camera by Terrell Allen.