Monday, March 19, 2012
The Interrupters (dir. Steve James, 2011) spans a year in the work of the men and women of CeaseFire, a Chicago-based organization that intervenes to de-escalate conflicts that threaten to turn violent. CeaseFire’s Violence Interrupters, all of whom bring a criminal history to their work, keep tabs on the doings in their Chicago neighborhoods, tracking the petty and not so petty disputes and grudges that so often precipitate violence.
The film focuses on the work of three Violence Interrupters — Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra. We see them speaking to the camera about their lives and speaking to others in an effort to avert violence by the power of persuasion: cajoling, challenging, empathizing, flattering, reasoning, shaming. The film is at once a cause for despair and a cause for hope. The fatalism of so many of the film’s young people, captured in the words “I am next,” written on a wall of the dead, seems straight from the Iliad: “I know I will not make old bones,” as Achilles says. Yet the Violence Interrupters themselves have learned to live beyond criminality and violence, and we see them, armed only with words, convincing others to do the same. Perhaps the most powerful scene: Williams accompanying Lil’ Mikey as he apologizes to the beauty-shop owner he robbed two years before.
The Interrupters is available on DVD. Or watch online at PBS’s Frontline.
During this past weekend, ten people were killed and thirty-nine more wounded in Chicago. One of the dead was a six-year-old girl.
[“I know I will not make old bones”: from Christopher Logue’s War Music, a reimagining of the Iliad (1997). Images from the film’s Facebook page and press materials.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:33 AM