Peace Circles Tio Hardiman Chicago Gangs Violence Interupters

By May 11, 2019News

Chicago street gang members give ‘peace circles’ a chance to prevent shootings

'Lil Neil, a West Side gang member, talking about how a "peace circle" helped keep him from getting killed — or killing someone else.

‘Lil Neil, a West Side gang member, talking about how a “peace circle” helped keep him from getting killed — or killing someone else. | Victor Hilitski / Sun-Times

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‘Lil Neil had survived two shootings. But he was about to get shot again.

The 32-year-old West Humboldt Park man burglarized an apartment in another part of the West Side, known as K-Town. He stole some guns from one of the guys who lived there.

But the gun owner and his friends knew where he lived. One day in late April, they came to his home.

‘Lil Neil says he wasn’t there, but a cousin was. The men threatened to shoot ‘Lil Neil if he didn’t make good on the guns he stole.

‘Lil Neil is no pushover. He’s in one of the many gang “cliques” on the West Side. Guns and violence are part of his life. A close friend recently was gunned down on Chicago Avenue.

He has a reputation as being someone with “backbone,” a guy you don’t mess with.

Rumors were going around on the West Side about the standoff between ‘Lil Neil and the guys he stole from.

That’s when Tio Hardiman stepped in.

Tio Hardiman, president and founder of Violence Interrupters, conducting a "peace circle" with gang members.

Tio Hardiman, president and founder of Violence Interrupters, conducting a “peace circle” with gang members. | Victor Hilitski / Sun-Times

‘Peace circles’

Hardiman, former executive director of CeaseFire Illinois, the well-known anti-violence program, has started his own organization, Violence Interrupters. He says its mission is to prevent shootings. Which he says is a little different than what he was doing in his last job: trying to stop retaliation after shootings.

Hardiman says he’s trying to get an audience with the mayor and the governor to explain his strategy, which is centered on restorative justice and “peace circles.” Peace circles have been tried recently in the Chicago Public Schools to resolve conflicts among kids. According to Hardiman, the concept originated long ago among Native Americans and New Zealand and Australian aboriginals.

Hardiman says he’s used peace circles this year to mediate 24 potentially deadly conflicts among gang members on the South Side and the West Side.

This past week, ‘Lil Neil and two other young men from different West Humboldt Park gang cliques agreed to talk with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter at a West Side community center about how peace circles kept ‘Lil Neil from being killed — or killing someone else. They asked not to have their last names published but allowed their photos to be taken.

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