The Interrupters 11/10/20 3:01
The film doesn't downplay the overwhelming odds facing these interrupters. Chicago's murder problem is almost legendary, and there are certain neighborhoods which we get to know in the film in which young people aren't expected to make it past their 20s. But rather than have voice-overs discussing the issues or presenting statistics, the film focuses on the interrupters themselves, three in particular: Ameena Matthews, daughter of one of Chicago's biggest gangsters, herself a crime lieutenant until she got shot, converted to Islam, and now intervenes in the lives of at-risk youth; Cobe Williams, an ex-con with an easy-going manner, who in one very moving sequence accompanies a young man just out of prison as he goes to apologize to the victims of his robbery; and finally, Eddie Bocanegra, a young Latino man who did 14 years for murder and now does violence prevention work with kids as part of his amends. There are also excellent scenes involving the program director Tio Hardiman running meetings in which the interrupters and outreach workers share their perspectives on how to handle violent situations while taking care of oneself.
The street cred of the interrupters makes them more likely to be listened to than if they were outsiders. The film also reveals the life-stories and inner lives of these three people in vivid and heart-wrenching fashion. We can see the deeply ingrained problems of economic injustice, racism, addiction, and the rage that all this inspires—CeaseFire doesn't attempt to solve these problems, nor to mediate conflicts between people. They go beyond the rights and wrongs of the situation to simply counsel non-violence as the only path with a future, working with people one at a time. It's to James' credit that he doesn't attribute magical results to the group. We learn to know the grief and suffering as much as the hope.
As usual in documentaries of this kind, one questions how much the presence of the camera determines what you see. Steve James believes that this can be an important part of a truthful experience, and indeed the behavior in the film seems genuine, raw and heartfelt. One comes away from The Interrupters with a sobering awareness of the tragedy of kids killing other kids, and also a deeper belief in the ability of human beings to turn around and become agents of healing.