Breaking the Cycle of Violence: An Interview With Documentarian Steve James
by Amanda Lin Costa
It might be shocking to learn that a US Department of Justice report that surveyed homicide statistics for almost thirty years concluded that most murders are intraracial, with 86 percent of White murders committed by Whites, and 94 percent of Black murders committed by Blacks. Wikipedia notes “the report doesn’t provide any details concerning what races or ethnicities are included in the designations "White" or "Black" but we don’t need those details to realize from those statistics that the heart of violence sits in our own communities, perpetrated by neighbors, family members, friends and acquaintance against each other.
If you live in a neighborhood with a high murder rate, this truth is tangible and palatable with the heart-wrenching site of memorials on almost every block. Memorials created from candles, teddy bears, photos and poetry that mourns and pays tribute to the dead. One could drown in violence statistics. They stack up endlessly and fill books but to what end? How can the tides of violence be changed when the causes and solutions are debated endlessly from the floors of congress to the minds of academia and still no single answer appears?
The writer and political activist Mary McCarthy wrote, “In violence we forget who we are.” Violence destroys hearts, families and communities. Yet, McCarthy also wrote, “We are the hero of our own story” --- meaning: we can change the tides and we can shape the future. Maybe we can’t change the world but we may just be able to save a life and isn’t that something?!? This is the question Eddie Bocanegra, Ameena Matthews and Ricardo “Cobe” Williams ask themselves everyday as violence interrupters in Chicago’s CeaseFire program.
Filmmaker Steve James, best known for the award winning documentary “Hoop Dreams,” and Alex Kotlowitz author of the best-selling book “There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America” spent fourteen months on the streets of Chicago with CeaseFire’s violence interrupters to create a documentary that addresses topics much broader than just the violent microcosm we are entrenched in while watching The Interrupters.
The film begins with an eye-opening statistic that sets the whole tone for the film --- more people died from violence in Chicago than American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan over the same period of time. Is Chicago unique?
No it’s not unique. Chicago might not even be in the top ten most dangerous cities per capita in the United States right now but it has historically been very high. The murder rate is down considerably across the country (not that it’s low) since it reached its peak in the early nineties during the crack epidemic. There is a feeling in the communities featured in the film that the crime back then was between warring gangs and drug dealers and that it didn't effect everyday people. Now, there is a feeling that the crime is random and the kids feel more vulnerable. So even though there are half as many murders it doesn't feel any safer to them.
To Read the Interview and watch the trailer for the documentary