I know this is last minute, but if you are home tonight, do yourself a favor at watch the premier of The Interrupters on PBS. The Interrupters is a documentary made by the same guy that made Hoop Dreams (which is also excellent), Steve James. The movie basically follows for a year the lives of three violence interrupters in Englewood, which is a crime-ridden town outside Chicago. There jobs are not to actually turn in gang members to the police, but to simply stop violence before it happens
The main star of this documentary is Ameena Matthews. Ameena Matthews is somewhat of a celebrity in Englewood. Her father was the notorious gang leader Jeff Fort. This guy was like the Al Capone of the 70s and 80s. He was such a large name in the Chicago crime world, that he actually ended up going to jail, not because he was a gang leader, but because he was conspiring with Libyan terrorists. Ameena, not being a slouch herself, was a gang enforcer growing up. She lived up to her name but after being shot, she changed her ways and set out to end bloodshed in her town.
What makes Interrupters so effective at what they do, is partially to do with the fact that they were all once gang members and criminals themselves. They know the street, and the people on the street know them. It is this mutual respect that allows for these people to intercede fights without themselves becoming victims of the violence themselves (usually).
The movie so far has only had limited screenings across America. I was lucky enough to actually watch the movie downtown a 2 months ago. It was hosted by WBEZ, and afterward Ameena Matthews along with a few other people, spoke about the film and the state of Englewood today. I must say, Ameena Matthews is as intimidating in person, as she was on screen. Perhaps even more so. I am not really into celebrities and I don’t think I would be excited to see one, but I was super excited to see her. I also find her super attractive so that was part of it.
So for people in Chicago, it will be on Frontline tonight at 8 o’clock. It really is worth watching. It is weird seeing shows like this. It makes it feel like there are war zones just right next door. I think it is important that we remember that. The problems in poor neighborhoods like Englewood seem daunting and insurmountable. However, people like Ameena are up to the task, and they are making a difference.