More than a metaphor, this understanding is fundamental to CeaseFire, an innovative international violence prevention program that uses disease control methods to disrupt urban violence. Violence as a disease is also a central theme of 'The Interrupters' an award-winning documentary, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance and was released theatrically last month.
The film is a creative partnership between producer-director Steve James (HOOP DREAMS) and acclaimed author-turned-producer Alex Kotlowitz ('There Are No Children Here'), whose article for the New York Times Magazine served as its inspiration. Its theatrical release kicked off in NYC last month and makes its way to London this week.
The CeaseFire model is the brainchild of Dr. Gary Slutkin—an epidemiologist with more than a decade of experience at the World Health Organization reversing outbreaks of TB, cholera, and AIDS throughout Africa and Asia—who had the insight to treat violence as a disease by identifying, detecting and interrupting transmission.
Enter the Violence Interrupters, who along with CeaseFire Outreach Workers serve as health care specialists on the frontline of this epidemic, interrupting transmission of violence from person-to-person. In short, they use whatever tactics they can to persuade heavily armed individuals, often enraged and hell-bent on doing harm, to put their weapons down and explore less destructive means of resolution.
The film follows three such CeaseFire workers – modern day heroes: Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra —who defuse conflict and keep the peace in some of Chicago’s most violent communities. The trio represents 23 such workers currently mediating conflicts in Illinois (down from 50 as of June 2011 due to a statewide budget crisis) who have intervened in over 200 events in the first 6 months of this year alone.
Throughout the U.S., CeaseFire’s nearly 20 replication sites boast more than 105 street-level workers excited to see their efforts reflected on the big screen. Crown Heights SOS, a New York City replication partner, weighed in with their reaction to the film in a recent New York Times piece. Moreover, the film is an amazing tool to demonstrate not only that violence is a disease, but also illustrate how exactly it can be stopped.