SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Victims of gun violence and their families gave emotional testimony urging lawmakers to restore funding Gov. Bruce Rauner slashed for CeaseFire, a community-based violence-prevention program, at an Appropriations-Public Safety Committee hearing in Springfield Thursday.

“Had Bruce Rauner not forced CeaseFire to shut down, my son might still be here today,” said Amalia Laurenzana, whose 19-year-old son was shot and killed. “No mother should be forced to go through the pain that I feel every day. The shootings and killings have got to stop. This program works, and if you fund it, you will be saving lives and saving mothers from having to bury their children like I did.”

CeaseFire has proven successful in curbing violence in some of Chicago’s most at-risk neighborhoods, but an executive order issued by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2015 suspended state funding for the program. The governor’s subsequent budget proposals have eliminated all funding for the service, and in July 2016, Rauner bragged about cutting “wasteful state spending” including funding for CeaseFire. Meanwhile, violent crime in Chicago and other communities in Illinois has risen sharply, gaining national notoriety and comment from public officials all the way to the White House.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who chairs the Appropriations-Public Safety Committee, convened the hearing Thursday, and asked the governor’s administration and committee members to restore funding for CeaseFire.

“Credible research proves that CeaseFire has been effective in saving lives and curbing violence across Illinois, yet for the second year in a row, Gov. Rauner has said it’s his intention to eliminate all funding for this program, as well as other programs proven to be effective,” Cassidy said. “During his State of the State address, Gov. Rauner pleaded with the General Assembly to help him in curbing the violence taking place in our state, and not two weeks later he turned around and again eliminated this life-saving program. Violence victims and their families need action, not empty rhetoric and campaign promises. The rise of violence in our communities will not end without the commitment of vital resources to proven programs like CeaseFire, something the governor has refused to support.”

The CeaseFire program approaches violence prevention as a public health issue and places workers in communities to talk with victims and discourage retaliation. By sending outreach workers and violence interrupters to communities suffering the highest rates of shootings and killings, CeaseFire successfully mediates conflicts before they escalate to violence.

“Working for CeaseFire gave me a purpose – to help young people avoid going down the dangerous path that I did and that led me to 12 years behind bars,” said Angalia Bianca, an outreach worker and the implementation specialist for the program that houses CeaseFire, who testified at Thursday’s hearing. “CeaseFire’s outreach workers and violence interrupters have found success by building real relationships in their communities. Data shows that eliminating funding for CeaseFire has led to the rate of shootings and killings in Chicago increasing – no question.”

To further help individuals find a path away from violence, outreach workers help community members with job searches, getting more education and getting treatment for drug abuse. A 2016 study of the program shows that this holistic approach helps reduce rates of homicide and violent crime in neighborhoods served by CeaseFire. Periods of unstable funding for CeaseFire were also found to correspond with higher rates of violent crime in these same neighborhoods.

Before the Rauner’s cuts in 2015, CeaseFire had launched programs in 25 communities statewide, including East St. Louis, Springfield and Waukegan.

“As a violence interrupter, I was a community member who people could turn to in their hour of greatest need and sadness, and I could help them see another path,” said Andre Neal, lead outreach worker for Springfield’s former CeaseFire program. “It’s not about preaching, it’s about hope, and this is a proven strategy. It saddens me to see the violence in my neighborhood that has spread since we were forced to shut down. We, as a state, can do better, and I’m asking for the ability to do a job that I know saves lives.”

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