Monday, August 01, 2011

Gang 'Interrupters' - Stopping the next killing

We in the Abolition Movement must work toward prevention. Here's an inspiring movement...

Gang 'Interrupters' Fight Chicago's Cycle Of Violence
August 1, 2011

Listen to the Story - Fresh Air from WHYY - [44 min 1 sec] GO here

Ameena Matthews, a violence interrupter with the Chicago organization CeaseFire, mediates disputes to prevent gang violence from escalating.

Aaron Wickenden, a violence interrupter with the Chicago organization CeaseFire, mediates disputes to prevent gang violence from escalating.

For 11 years, former gang members in Chicago have entered dangerous neighborhoods in the city and staged group interventions for at-risk youth, in an effort to try to stop the cycle of retaliatory gang violence that plagues the city's western and southern neighborhoods.

The men and women, known as "violence interrupters," work with an organization called CeaseFire, which operates under the assumption that violence moves through a city in the same way that an infectious disease moves through the body. To fix crime, says the organization, violence needs to be stopped at the source.

But there's a problem: "Not just anybody can come in and tell a guy to put his gun down," says CeaseFire's director Tio Hardiman, in a scene from The Interrupters, a new documentary about the group. "Most of the violence interrupters come from the hierarchy in some of these gangs. [And they] have one goal in mind: to stop killings. They're not trying to dismantle gangs. What they're trying to do is save a life."

Chicago's Schools, Police Work To Stem Violence:

The film is a collaboration between Hoop Dreams director Steve James and journalist Alex Kotlowitz, who profiled their organization in 2008 for The New York Times Magazine. The topic of violence in Chicago hit particularly close to home for both men, James tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

"Alex saw three people in the course of writing [his book There Are No Children Here] perish on the streets," he says. "And for me, two people [related to the cast] from Hoop Dreams ... were murdered. ... What we wanted to do, in some ways, was to refocus some attention on this issue because it feels like we've gotten to a point where murders are down, but they're still way too high. And I think there's this feeling that we've kind of done what we can do — and it's just the way those neighborhoods are at this point."

Members of CeaseFire establish relationships with people affected by violence and then work to get them to channel their anger in non-violent ways. The film profiles three of the interrupters, including a man whose father was murdered and another who committed a murder when he was 17.

The third subject of the film is Ameena Matthews, one of only two female members of Chicago's interrupters team. Matthews is the daughter of a famous gang member and had been in a gang herself — which, she says, gives her credibility when navigating potentially volatile situations among teens on the streets.

"The first thing they'll say [to you] if you come on the block and you haven't lived or walked the walk, [is] 'How can you tell me anything? You don't know how I live. You don't know how I breathe. You don't know nothing,'" Matthew says. "And nine times out of ten, these little young guys and girls that I encounter, they know my father."

I'm looking at 13, 14, 15, 18, 19-year-old men and women dying on the streets of Chicago. That's what's so profound to me about the violence.

- Ameena Matthews
Gang members who aren't familiar with Matthews or her father will often do research on her before she comes back to talk to them again, she says.

"And when I come back around, the way they look is 'Oh my goodness, what did I do to have this person come and speak to me?'" she says. "It's a door opener."

When Matthews was heavily involved in gang activities, it was her Muslim faith, her children and grandmother who served as her own violence interrupters, she says.

"[My grandmother] would step in the middle of raids, asking, 'Where's Ameena?'" she says. "Guns were drawn and she's not even looking at the guns or the gas that was thrown in the building to smoke us out, she's yelling my name and telling me to get my behind out. ... She was there."

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