With the recent passing of Rob Ingram, now is a good time to mention a recent independent documentary that is showing at theaters around the country right now.
A couple weeks ago, the Bijou Arts Theaters here in Eugene, Oregon showed "The Interrupters." This is a documentary which focuses on the work of a non-profit group, Ceasefire Chicago (which isn't affiliated with Ceasefire Oregon, despite the name).
The goal of Ceasefire Chicago is to treat gang violence like a public health disease. Ex-gang members, who have done time and seen the errors of their ways, go out on the streets and find out where there are flare-ups in gang violence. They then insert themselves, acting to mediate the violence and bring understanding between the two sides, preventing further violence and saving lives. They don't ally themselves with one side or the other, and they don't work for the police. In this way they are trusted by the gang members they are trying to save. Further, they stay with the people they mediate, long-term, working to reduce the behaviors that led to the initial confrontation. These ex-gang members are called "Violence Interrupters."
The film follows a number of these Violence Interrupters as they go about their mediations, peering into their lives and what led them to this heroic work, and the way it is working. Rob Ingram, having been a gang member in his youth, and having turned around and then led Portland's Office of Youth Violence Prevention, was very much like one of these Violence Interrupters. It's a hard business, and success is never guaranteed.
I am very thankful to the Bijou Theater for showing "The Interrupters", for allowing me to briefly address one of the audiences, and allowing Ceasefire Oregon to have an information table in their lobby during the showings. I had some good conversations with viewers of the film, afterward, and we got at least one new volunteer. With the rise of gang activity and shootings in Eugene, gang violence is increasing a factor here as well. Members of Ceasefire Oregon are actively involved in the Portland Gang Taskforce meetings; we may well need to have a presence on such a team in Eugene.
The pro-gun side likes to blame America's distressing gun crime statistics on gangs and drug dealers, so maybe this program is something that they can see as a solution to the problem, particularly since it isn't a program that emphasizes disarming the gang members.
Of course, interrupting the violence is only one part of an overall package of things that need done to reduce gang shootings. We must also do what we can to limit the availability of guns to gangs and criminals in the first place (such as by requiring background checks for private sales and doing more to stop gun trafficking), more support for organizations that work to reduce urban poverty, unemployment, and under-education (such as the United Way), better funding of police forces, and perhaps stricter sentencing for violent criminals.
I urge you to see "The Interrupters" if you get a chance. More cities need to have such an organization.