The Interrupters

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Kristine Morris

Directed and photographed by Steve James; produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James

This inspiring, critically acclaimed documentary takes a revealing and heartbreaking look at what New York Times chief film critic Manohla Dargis has called an unforgivable American tragedy: the fact that millions of our nation’s youth live in war zones surrounded by violence and despair. Left to fend for themselves, many don’t expect to live past the age of 30. Filmed over a one-year period in Chicago at a time when the city was the national symbol for urban violence, The Interrupters is the intimate story of three former gang members who are putting their lives on the line to stop the killing and bring healing to their communities. The film’s main subjects work for a larger group, CeaseFire, founded by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who came to believe that violence and infectious disease spreads in the same way and responds to similar treatment — going after the most infected and stopping the infection at its source. Its Violence Interrupters program was created by Tio Hardiman in 2004 with one goal in mind: to stop the killing and save lives by using people who have “street cred” (because of their own personal history of gang membership, crime, involvement with drugs, and incarceration) to intervene in conflicts before they explode into violence.
Ameena Matthews, daughter of one of Chicago’s most notorious gang leaders and herself a former drug-ring enforcer, found strength to leave the streets through her Muslim faith and her love for her children. The film follows her fearless work to confront gang members and befriend those caught in despair and violence. Cobe Williams, scarred by the murder of his father, was in and out of prison until he found new meaning for his life in his family and young son. Eddie Bocanegra, haunted by a murder he committed when he was 17, works with young children to keep them off the streets through loving support and art programs. A must-see for anyone who is trying to understand what urban violence is doing to our children, the film brings the hopeful message that people are not basically bad and that learned violent behavior can be changed. The Peace Alliance is using this film to let America’s at-risk youth know that “we’ve got your back.” See how you can help by going to The Peace Alliance and Student Peace Alliance have joined together to help make a difference for the most at-risk American youth.

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