By: Sharmon Jarmon
December 5, 2012
On Tuesday Nov. 13, Dominican University displayed how close their mission statement is within the city of Chicago by screening the documentary, “The Interrupters.” After the screening, producer, author and journalist Alex Kotlowitz (“There Are No Children Here”,) Interrupter Cobe Williams and GSSW Dean Charlie Stoops sat down to discuss the film with attendees and Alaina Kornfeld ’16.
The panel integrated social networking into the screening, allowing students to tweet questions with the hashtag #DUInterrupters if they did not want to ask their questions in person.
Directed by Steve James, (“Hoop Dreams”) and co-Produced Kotlowitz, “The Interrupters” is based on real life peacemakers, some of which were former convicts, who go through the streets of Chicago trying to minimize violence in the neighborhood.
The movie begins with voice-overs of journalists stating the raising statics of the deaths, murders and other violent activities that occurred the past couple of years in the Chicagoland area. The screen then goes to a screenshot of Morgan Park High School.
As the film continues, we a group called CURE Violence put their past wrong-doing aside to change the community and teach the next generation that violence, drugs and crime are not ways to succeed in this life.
Out of a group of about 30 interrupters, Kotlowitz decided to focus on the stories of three: African American female Ameena Matthews, African American male Cobe Williams and Hispanic male Eddie Bocanegra.
An interrupter is someone that attempts to prevent violence by interjecting or interrupting during the act. The method can seem controversial, but is the core method of the violence intterupters.
When asked why he got involved with the film, Kotlowitz said, “Be careful as a storyteller of stereotyping.”
“I was intrigued by their stories and spent Wednesday afternoons at the meetings trying to figure it out,” he continued.
However because this is real life and not just some reality show, there was a hesitation between the Interrupters and the film crew about whether or not they should allow these cameras to follow them around when they are trying to maintain trust within an already violent atmosphere.
“Early on I didn’t know what step to take because people don’t want to be filmed,” said Williams, who is also the National Community Coordinator for CURE Violence.
“I didn’t want to be seen with big cameras but because the people [in the neighborhood] knew me already it wasn’t a problem,” he said.
Safety was another crucial issue apart from trust. Not only could the production team be in danger because they our filming scenarios were violence is only seconds away, the moment the cameras stop rolling, the Interrupters still have to face these same streets daily.
“I was just worried if the film would come out bad,” Williams said with a small laugh.
“I still had to go back to the community after this,” he continued.
Throughout the movie an emphasis is put on these heartfelt stories of people who, could use guidance and motivation.
“Kicking kids out of school is not cool,” Williams stresses. “I’ve seen so many get killed or killed somebody else.”
Seeing violence and young people with shattered dreams, one would wonder what keeps these Interrupters going with an enthusiasm and hope. But Williams says it’s about more than that.
“I used to be a part of the problem not the solution,” he said. “Now I can get involved in people’s life.” And he has done just that, as we witnessed with one of his cases Flamo, a hot-headed 32-year-old. Flamo, who wasn’t afraid to go back to jail, said Williams was like “a fly that just wouldn’t stop buzzing in his ear”. Now Flamo is living in Minneapolis, MN with a career in standup comedy, according to PBS.org.
The audience also got to see the downsides of being an Interrupter when one ended up injured and in the hospital. TIo Hardiman, Director of CURE Violence Illinois, cried in solidarity of the courage his follow Interrupter had even in a hospital bed.
“We turn to each other to strategize,” said Williams when asked about how they handle the frustration.
Kotlowitz agreed that the group affability got him through the filming. “During my first book it was a difficult two years and I went into a deep depression because I was worrying about the kids,” he said. “However this time around I had the comfort of Cobe and some of the other Interrupters to talk to. I never laughed so hard or been so inspired.
Since its release, the movie has done more than just tell stories. It has inspired more people to get involved in stopping the violence and even inspired the community and the young people involved to want to do better.
Caprysha, for example, was a girl who was quick to react in anger has been in and out of juvenile detention centers and foster homes. With the help of Interrupter Ameena Matthews, she learned that there is a better life. After seeing herself in the film, the director says he saw a little motivation beginning to develop in Caprysha.
“[…] she was really struck, I think, to see the kind of commitment and love that Ameena had for her in the film. It’s not that she didn’t know it, but there was something about seeing it in that context,” stated director James in an interview with PBS.org.
The film serves as an inside look at what happens in Chicago’s streets and is an effort at letting people gain more consciousness on the issue.
The general lesson learned from this film is that violence is an “interpersonal conflict”. The mentally of the urban youth is about protection. They don’t like to fight “but they will if they have to,” one kid said in the film.
Gary Slutkin, founder of CURE Violence, summed it up quite nicely, stating that, “violence is behavior not bad people. It is a two-step process: First, have a grievance and second that grievance justifies my violence.”
Williams decides to leave the crowd of future scholars, educators, and justice officials with some advice on how we ourselves can be interrupters one day at a time.
“Be patient. You don’t know what they’re going through,” said Williams.