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The Interrupters (2011) Steve James

The Interrupters is a documentary that profiles three people working for the Cease-Fire organization in Chicago as ”violence interrupters”, a job title that barely scratches the surface of what they actually do. Cease-Fire takes an epidemiologist’s approach to crime - it tries to get at “patient zero” and stop the violence incident-by-incident, before it can spread through that chain of escalating retaliations. The violence interrupters get in the middle of altercations, but they also attend funerals, comfort families, and counsel people in need.

The organization takes issue with the common thought that most of the violence is gang-related, and states that most of the violence is interpersonal (I believe the film states that 80% is interpersonal, but I can’t find that stat on the internet so I’m not sure). 

The violence interrupters all have violent pasts and a real understanding of the daily circumstances of the people who they try to help. This is important - in a small moment that I particularly liked, a scene shows Eddie visiting an elementary school where he helps children express themselves through art. He asks the kids what’s happened since the last time he visited, and one of the boys tells him about a shooting. The young teacher, a Teach for America placement perhaps, says that she’s glad Eddie is here but of course, they can always feel free to tell her anything. She does this in a perfect way, she seems approachable, she’s caring. But nah, miss. It’s just not the same.

I did come across some criticism of the organization for not taking a broader stance and trying to solve other problems that can lead to violence (education, job creation, family violence, etc.), but this seems like an unfair criticism. Yes, these institutionalized problems create a system that leads to violence, but that doesn’t mean that an organization should not try to do something to stop violence without having to try to fix every other issue. There are other organizations working on those problems, and violence still occurs. Cease-Fire has one focus and I don’t think it can be criticized for that.

An incredibly important documentary profiling some amazing people who are doing incredibly important work, I highly highly highly recommend watching. 

#72 - 4/8/2012

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