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Attorney General Garland in Chicago, announces $78 million in new anti-violence funding

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was in Chicago on Wednesday to announce $78 million in new funding for community-based anti-violence initiatives, which he says show the Justice Department “doubling down” on programs that have helped reduce gun violence nationwide.

Garland, a Chicago-area native, made the announcement at the second annual summit for the Community-Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative, a federal grant program started by the Biden administration to provide resources to local agencies and groups in tune with the needs of specific communities.

Garland told the gathering of several hundred stakeholders at the Hyatt Regency hotel on East Wacker Drive that solicitations for the $78 million in grants were “going live today,” prompting applause and murmurs of excitement in the crowd.

“Get out there! What are you waiting for?” Garland said jokingly. “Now, no one is going to listen to the rest of this.”

The $78 million allocation announced by Garland for fiscal year 2024 comes after the department awarded more than $90 million under CVIPI the previous year, according to Justice Department statistics.

In his remarks, Garland cited the substantial progress made nationwide since gun violence peaked during the pandemic, including a 13% reduction in homicides in Chicago over the past year and even more substantial reductions in cities like Detroit, Baltimore and New Orleans.

“The declines are not just abstract statistics,” Garland said. “As you know so well, they represent people — people who are still here to see their children grow up, to work toward fulfilling their dreams, and to contribute to their communities.”

Central to the effort, Garland said, was Eddie Bocanegra, the former Chicago-based outreach worker and neighborhood anti-violence leader who was tapped by Garland in 2022 to be a senior adviser for community violence intervention in the Office of Justice Programs.

Garland recalled the day almost three years ago that he met Bocanegra during a trip to Chicago to speak with law enforcement and community groups, including Bocanegra’s anti-gun-violence initiative READI Chicago.

The visit came just hours after a series of mass shootings in the city, including two on the West Side that left nine people wounded and a 15-year-old boy dead.

“I met case managers, job coaches, and outreach workers at READI. I heard from several of the young men they serve,” Garland said. “And I met READI Chicago’s incredibly energetic director — named Eddie Bocanegra. … Speaking for all of us at the DOJ, Eddie, thank you for the enormous contributions to advancing our community violence intervention that you have made and that you have continued to make.”

Bocanegra, who helped organize the three-day conference in Chicago, told the crowd that the federal CVIPI program was different because the Department of Justice has placed its trust in the people who are closest to the violence and the gang conflicts, disinvestment, and other issues that drive it.

“Just look around you. This is new and different for us,” Bocanegra said. “These are the people who the attorney general has entrusted for the Department of Justice. This is the ethos that is coming from the very top.”

Meanwhile, the symposium got underway on the same day the Chicago Police Department announced its latest crime statistics, showing there had been a 5% drop in homicides year-over-year during the same time period, but that March saw 46 homicides — 10 more than in March 2023.

Garland said in his remarks that there “is no acceptable level of violent crime” and that keeping violence trending downward is going to take a lot more hard work.

“Too many communities are still struggling, and too many people are still scared,” he said. “The hard-fought progress we saw last year can easily slip away. So, we must remain focused and vigilant.”

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com