“I Need Them and They Need Me”

February 14, 2012

The Interrupters, an intimate journey across the violent landscape of our cities through the eyes of those working to sow peace and security, airs tonight on FRONTLINE. Check your local listings.

“I was a bit of a cynic at first,” admits writer Alex Kotlowitz about the Chicago-based violence prevention program CeaseFire, which he first wrote about in 2008. “One of the things I really admired about it was that it takes the moral judgment out of the equation.”

Kotlowitz, whose 2008 profile of CeaseFire was the inspiration for The Interrupters, which airs on FRONTLINE tonight, and Ameena Matthews, a violence interrupter profiled in it, were both on The Takeaway yesterday to discuss the film and how they encountered CeaseFire.

A key part of CeaseFire’s operations are the violence interrupters who work to mediate conflicts and talk individuals down from retaliatory violence. Often former gang leaders themselves, these interrupters, like Ameena, hold some influence in the communities in which they work.

“Chicago may look pretty big, but it’s a very small town,” she tells John Hockenberry. “So there’s somebody who knows somebody who knows Ameena.” She admits she’s not “bulletproof,” but knowing the community helps a great deal when she tries to mediate a dispute.

“I need them and they need me. And I know that if I continue to educate them to get them buy into the camp that you don’t need to kill anybody to resolve a conflict, I’m gonna stay around,” she says. “I need to continue furthering their education to make sure that they have something to put in their hands in place of a gun. Because these guys … can’t make their way if they’re in the prison system.”

Listen to the full audio interview below and watch a trailer for the film here.

Bonus: The Interrupters: Heroes in an Urban War Zone

“Don’t see The Interrupters out of some grudging civic duty,” writes Time magazine’s Richard Corliss. “See it for the beautiful and horrifying people, for the despair and the against-all-odds uplift.”

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