The Rapidian

Dyer-Ives presents The Interrupters: A Review

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Creston's volunteer reporter Jonathan S. gives his takeaway from the panel discussion and showing of the movie "The Interrupters," as the Grand Rapids community continues to come together to address gang violence in the city.
Underwriting support from:

/courtesy of Dyer-Ives Foundation

By Jonathan S.

After a series of shooting deaths in the Grand Rapids area starting back in November of 2012, and culminating with the shooting death of an elderly Kentwood couple in December, residents, police and politicians began to look for answers as to what can be done to curb the seemingly growing problem. 

Wednesday, February 27, area residents filled Wealthy Theater for a screening of "The Interrupters," a documentary that follows Chicago-based organization "Cure Violence," which focuses on "interrupting" violence before it happens. The film was fronted by a discussion and forum featuring Commissioner Ruth Kelly, Rev. Jerry Bishop, School Board Member Raynard Ross, Cure Violence Analyst Charlie Ransford, Grand Rapids Police Dept. Capt. Payne and Cobe Williams, an Interrupter featured in the film. 

Before the film began, each speaker was allowed opportunities to address a variety of topics. A common theme among nearly all of the guests was a lack of community involvement leading to an increase in violence. Several cited the rehabilitation of Wealth Street in the 1980's as an example of a community stepping up to the plate to cure a drug and violence problems before they spiraled out of control. 

Another common theme among the speakers, and all of the community members who spoke up during a brief open mic session, was the need for jobs. Three community members spoke out about the need: a middle age white male who identified himself as working with youth, a woman of color who identified herself as a probation officer, and a young man of color who candidly identified himself as having recently been released from jail. All three had a common message: the community needs to create jobs and be willing to give young men caught in the criminal justice system a second, third, and even fourth chance. All three reiterated that crime rises out of necessity in many cases, and those who can't find jobs are turning to violent crime to "get by."

The approach of Cure Violence is unique. The founder of Cure Violence (formerly "Ceasefire") is an epidemiologist. He believes the approach to "curing" violence is much like that of infectious disease: interrupt community conflicts before they interrupt into violence. Using that approach, Chicago neighborhoods like West Garfield have seen as much as a 67 percent in shootings. Interrupters, as the Cure Violence workers are called, are often former inmates and gang members. They understand the lifestyle and mentality, and work within their own communities with people they know to stop violence before it happens, and mediate conflicts.

After hearing about the approach and how the system works, GRPD Capt. Payne seemed optimistic and open to the approach, saying that the police can't "arrest away" the problem, and again citing a need for community action and accountability.

Right now, the program is in the early stages of consideration for Grand Rapids, with a date set for a team to travel to Chicago to see the program in action first-hand. Whether Cure Violence is the answer for Grand Rapids remains to be seen, but one thing was made clear by the large audience and panel members: Grand Rapids is tired of senseless violence, and the community is ready to do something about it.

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