Protecting civil liberties is a bedrock value at the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and in the work of its Targeted Violence Prevention Program. When the Targeted Violence Prevention Program was being designed, civil rights organizations were recognized as a key resource. Regular and open channels of communication with civil liberties groups is a best practice for TVPP. Our mission is to prevent targeted violence using a public health model of violence prevention that respects individual privacy and liberty.
Through both terminology and through the substance of our work, ICJIA TVPP has done a lot to distinguish itself from the caricatured “CVE Program” that some groups and individuals reference. This imagined “CVE Program” targets Muslims and Arabs and ignores other forms of hate-inspired targeted violence. This imagined “CVE Program” criminalizes religious observance and makes increased religiosity by Muslims a risk factor for violence. This imagined “CVE Program” stigmatizes Muslims and Arabs through a securitized relationship (which is to say, law enforcement views Muslims and Arabs as threats that need to be mitigated).
I emphasized the term “imagined” above because “CVE Program” as used by some critics describes a composite of many different failures and shortcomings and lumps them together as one monolithic program. These failures and shortcomings are real, and the work of preventing targeted violence - in light of the past mistakes - merits vigilant oversight so that these mistakes are not repeated. The appropriate approach is to assess each program and each effort on its own merits and demerits. Sadly, that is not happening.
ICJIA TVPP is focused on violence prevention - a topic with over 30 years of research. This work focuses on risk and protective factors. The public health approach seeks to help individuals who may be at an increased risk of harm to self and/or others. A public health approach to violence prevention calls for providing interventions that can ameliorate the harm caused by the existence of one or more risk factors and by the loss or breakdown of protective factors. Violent ideas and attraction to hateful groups may play a role, but it is not the central issue of concern. Furthermore, violence prevention, whether it is focused on bullying, sexual assault, domestic violence, gang violence, or targeted violence is not predicated on predicting who will engage in violence. It is about solving an individual’s problems, and providing help to an individual in crisis.
Furthermore, ICJIA TVPP has consistently addressed itself to all forms of targeted violence. Through our education and training work and our community awareness building efforts throughout Illinois, we have placed a spotlight on all forms of targeted violence including far-right extremist violence. We speak to law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to social service providers, to faith communities, in community colleges, in public libraries, and to school administrators, librarians, and social workers.
Labeling our work with the “CVE Program” is wrong. We learned what not to do by looking at the mistakes of the past. Still, it is vitally important that we engage regularly with civil liberties organizations.
We view them as potential partners in our work. In October 2016 I visited with Edwin Yohnka, Communications and Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Illinois, in his office to explain the TVPP program and to invite the ACLU of Illinois to work with us as we moved forward. In May 2016 and on numerous occasions since I described the work we are doing to CAIR-Chicago during public gatherings as well as one on one meetings with CAIR-Chicago staff in our offices. Even before formally launching TVPP I had the opportunity to travel to Sweden on a DHS/State Department exchange around CVE to learn how Sweden addressed extremist violence (historically their problem was with far-right extremism) and now it also includes far-left extremism as well as ISIS-inspired extremist violence. I traveled with Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, and both in informal conversation as well as formal presentations that each of us made, I described the TVPP mission to him.
We talk the talk, and we walk the walk. Here is another example.
At the beginning of 2018 I reached out to Muslim Advocates, ACLU-IL, and CAIR-Chicago to specifically invite them to an open and on-going dialogue over our DHS funded “CVE Grant” which we received to develop an awareness training tentatively called the “Engaged Bystander-Gatekeeper Training.” The following is the email that was sent on January 25, 2018 to employees and board members of these organizations.
Our invitation to work together did not result in any actual collaboration despite repeated follow ups on our part. A few weeks ago we received a Freedom of Information Act request from Muslim Advocates and the ACLU of Illinois. An unflattering press release was issued simultaneously. In the press release there were statements about the need for government to be transparent and the need for these groups to know how CVE funding was being used.
I could not agree more. That is precisely why we have been trying to engage with civil liberties organizations from day one of our program. I am not going to quibble over the request; FOIA is a vital tool for open and transparent government. But do you know what is even better than FOIA? The voluntary and ongoing cooperation of government with groups like Muslim Advocates and ACLU of Illinois, which is what we offered them months and months ago.
The offer to work together to build resources for communities that can be truly useful in preventing violence whilst safeguarding civil liberties remains on the table. It will always be on the table. As I said at the outset, protecting civil liberties is a bedrock value of our organization.