The conventional response to violence has relied on criminalization, policing and longer prison sentences, yet violence persists. In 2011, Steve James released a documentary, The Interrupters, to capture the violent landscape of our cities through the eyes of “violence interrupters,” activists working in the tradition of non-violence to interrupt confrontations before they become violent. This documentary tells the story of three activists working to protect their Chicago community from the violence they once created.
The film’s main subjects work for an innovative organization, CeaseFire, founded by Gary Slutkin. Slutkin, an epidemiologist and physician who battled infections diseases in Africa, says that violence mimics infections like tuberculosis and AIDS. He believes that treatment for violence should follow the same plan as those for diseases: “go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source.” Rather than thinking of violence from a moral issue (good people vs. bad people), Slutkin approaches violence from a public health one (healthful vs. unhealthful behavior).
CeaseFire and the Violence Interrupters are part of an effort to apply the principles of public health to the violence of the streets. CeaseFire tries to deal with these quarrels on the front end through former gang members, or interrupters, who mediate criminal activity on city streets. They “operate in a netherworld between upholding the law and upholding the logic of the streets.”
You can watch the full length documentary online here.
You may also read the interview with filmmaker, Steve James, here.
This post is part of the Social Justice Topic Series on From Punishment To Public Health (P2PH). If you have any questions, research that you would like to share related to P2PH or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Morgane Richardson at email@example.com with the subject line, “P2PH Series.”