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Elena Quintana

Elena Quintana

Posted: May 6, 2010 12:02 PM

The Southside Wins

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On Monday, Cobe and his friend and co-worker, Hot Rod went to the White Sox game. Each year White Sox charities sponsor a day when they invite representatives from all their funded programs to come and enjoy a day at the ball park. Cobe got his ball signed by Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the team, Ozzie Guillen, the head coach, and Billy Pierce, a former pitcher for the Sox from way back. As they sat near the foul line and took in the game, they also took in a rest from the work that they do on the streets.

Cobe has been working on mediating conflicts with CeaseFire for about 3 and a half years. His job is to stop shootings and killings on the Southside of Chicago by working with those most likely to shoot or get shot. This week Cobe has been absorbed by a family dispute. A mother of two sons called, because her sons - both in their early 20s - have been threatening to shoot one another. Each of her sons belongs to a different street organization. The problem arises when there is conflict within the larger groups, which is brought back into the home. At first the two sons would only fight each other, but lately the situation has escalated to the point where they have been pulling guns on one another.

In this situation the mother did not want to call the police on her sons. Instead, she called Cobe. Cobe understands this situation. He had belonged to a different street organization than his older brother coming up. Cobe recalls how he and his brother used to get into it in the same way these two brothers have. Initially, Cobe joined a different gang than his brother because it was the gang his friends favored. But if one friend got hurt or threatened by one of his brother's friends, this animosity would be played out within the home.

So far, Cobe has been able to talk to the mother about her two sons. He also spoke to the younger brother who seemed taxed by the conflict, and understands that in the end, he doesn't want to keep fighting with his brother. The younger brother calls Cobe to discuss how he's reached out to his bigger brother to urge him to sit down with Cobe as a moderator. The oldest brother seems the hardest to reach. In the hours and days to come, Cobe will try to sit with both brothers to hash things out peacefully and come to some basic agreements.

So often when we read the headlines of senseless shootings and killings, it is unfathomable to most that so many lives, most often of young men of color, are cut short over seemingly ridiculous conflicts. Commonly conflicts arise from disputes over girlfriends, dice games, turf, product disputes, or missing money. Sometimes provocation can be smaller in scale, such as a wayward glance or bumping into a car. This bravado, this willingness to go to a lethal level of retribution is a norm in some communities that has been developed over decades and generations of poverty, imprisonment, marginalization, and systemic violence within schools, courts, and communities.

The amazing thing happening here is that Cobe is not just moderating a family dispute that could save lives, but rejecting the overall norms perpetuating violence. He lived the life the two brothers are currently living. He can relate to the mindset and the situation of the family with whom he is working. He works with compassion and persistence to help guide the family to a different way of thinking; a way that rejects violence.

CeaseFire has hired hundreds of workers over the years. Many of these workers have served time, and have worked hard to turn their lives around. CeaseFire has offered some a way to use the contacts and skills that they have to broker peace in the short term and teach peaceful mediation techniques in the longer term. In this way, little by little, Cobe is one man doing his best to bring members of the community he loves so deeply, out of harms way, and into a fuller life.