World focus at home

By Samuel Charles

If you haven’t seen “The Interrupters” yet, change that as soon as possible. It’s a beautiful documentary by Steve James, the director of “Hoop Dreams,” and Alex Kotlowitz, author of “There Are No Children Here,” which examined the epidemic of violence in different communities on Chicago’s South and West sides.

The film has exploded in popularity since its premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center last year and has now been screened on five continents. The film was also aired on Frontline Feb. 14 with a national audience.

All of the sudden, people in Amsterdam seem to care about what’s going on in Englewood. That’s a good thing. This kind of exposure can only help.

At the same time the film is being distributed, the Chicago Police Department is ratcheting up its presence in some of the city’s most violent areas.

Using the arts in addition to manpower from local authorities, on top of global-awareness raising, might be the most effective strategy the city has even been involved in.

The work on the ground will fall on the CPD and CeaseFire, the University of Illinois at Chicago-based anti-violence group that employs the Interrupters. They’re on the front lines, and it seems like the two have found a happy medium for working in harmony.

When defining who “Chicago’s heroes” are, many say they are the police, Chicago Fire Department and members of the medical community, as they definitely should be. But CeaseFire and the Interrupters are the fourth and fifth groups befitting the title.

But while those two groups are working on the micro level, Kotlowitz and James have catapulted the issue into the global eye, and that can be almost as important.

It is sad, though, that more attention to some of the city’s roughest areas is being paid only because of a film. If anything, it reflects poorly on the powers that be in the city, proving their own ineptitude at helping out their constituents.

But in this case, given the extreme circumstances, the ends justify the means.

At this point, violence is ingrained into the fabric of these communities–Englewood and Little Village, among others–and whatever could help should be a welcomed addition to the pseudo-crusade.

While it’s important to make the lines clear between CeaseFire, the CPD and the filmmakers and their work, there’s no reason they all can’t work in harmony. They all have the same goal: to make Chicago a better place for its citizens.

This is the kind of new thinking the city needs, but more importantly, deserves.