Sometimes when the library is slow, I duck into the area where kids do their homework. I used to work specifically in this area, so I know the kids quite well. On this occasion, a couple days ago, I sat down with a group of elementary aged sisters who each needed a bit of help. The youngest, six years old, was working on her spelling words. You know the drill: write a sentence with the spelling word, circle the spelling word, don’t forget capitalization and end marks.
One of J’s spelling words was “don’t.” The sentence she wrote was, “I dont stab noe bidey.”
“J, what does your sentence say?”
“I don’t stab nobody.”
“Oh, what made you think to write that?”
“Because I don’t!”
Well that’s one youth in Columbus’ inner city who does not need a violence interrupter.
Tonight a few of us went to a viewing of the award winning documentary, The Interrupters, about the work of Ceasefire Chicago. Violence interrupters– individuals like Ameena, Eddie, Cobe, and so on– become active in the lives of gang members and in general street life. Most of them former gang members who have served time in prison, they become “credible messengers” of a better, smarter, nonviolent choice to stop. Stop killing, stop retaliating, stop the epidemic of violence, which according to the organization’s founder, Dr. Slutkin, is a learned behavior that acts like an infectious disease.
Stage 1: The perpetrator has a grievance: she disrespected me, he is in a rival gang, she called me a name, he stole my stuff, etc.
Stage 2: The grievance justifies violence.
The violence interrupters step in, hopefully, before homicide; the rates of which are astounding in the particular neighborhoods in Chicago where they work. More surprising, however, is that Professor Deanna Wilkinson of Ohio State presented statistics tonight that show certain areas of Columbus have higher statistics for shootings and homicides than the Ceasefire areas of Chicago. Ceasefire Columbus is in its third year of preparation but cannot move forward with a team of violence interrupters until it receives sufficient funding.
Behold Saint Ameena, violence interrupter and powerful matriarch:
Find the film screening nearest you. Take a road trip if you have to.