Francisco Sanchez said his days as a gang leader on Chicago’s West Side were over. At 50, he said he had seen numerous lives ruined by violence — young people losing the best years of their lives to prison; children left without parents in the name of petty disputes and turf wars. That’s why he became something else: a leader in an organization committed to ending gun violence.
But last week, federal prosecutors charged that Sanchez’s redemption had been a sham. They said that at the same time Sanchez was moonlighting as a supervisor at CeaseFire Illinois, he was heading up one of Chicago’s most violent street gangs, the Gangster Two-Six Nation.
Jeffrey Butts, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is studying the effectiveness of Cure Violence, said it is unfair to argue that the arrest of an outreach worker means that the entire program should be disbanded.
“Everyone loves to jump on this story every time,” Butts said. “We never do that when a police officer shoots an innocent person. We may say, ‘We should be more careful who we hire,’ or ‘We need to train people better,’ but we never say ‘We should stop having police officers patrol our streets.’”
Butts also pointed out that the very thing that makes Cure Violence effective requires that it employ people with gang and criminal histories. When a member of Alcoholics Anonymous goes back to drinking, the validity of the whole program is not questioned, Butts said.