Gang culture is a difficult thing to tackle as whole generations of people without a place to belong, without racial and religious lines to define them, form gangs and seek out rivalries with others. It's human nature to want to belong to a group, competition is only a natural progression of that. Resisting the worst qualities of human nature will always be an uphill struggle.
Charting the genesis of the violence is impossible at this point, one act sparks retaliation which sparks further retaliation and it never ends.
CeaseFire's 'violence interrupters' put themselves in harms way, standing between warring sides and preaching peace and rationality. They speak from experience. They grew up hard, just like these kids. They made mistakes, just like these kids. Some of them have even taken lives.
These interrupters are realists; they see the work ahead of them and accept they will fail as often or more than they succeed, but they are hopeful and the few lives they do save are worth it.
Ameena Matthews, one of the more prominent activists for CeaseFire, is the daughter of one of Chicago's biggest gang bosses. She converted to Islam and now works tirelessly to save other young men and women from a destructive life of crime. Matthews is just electrifying to watch, she commands respect from everyone she meets, with angry youth stopping dead in their tracks simply to listen to her preach rationality.
Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams, tells the story without the assistance of legal experts, sociologists, instead letting the people involved tell the story. There is an honesty of language and perspective in this method, it's what made Hoop Dreams such a masterpiece of the form. It seeks out the truth and keeps the emotion raw.
I only wish it could be longer, despite the already substantial runtime, there are stories and characters here that I wished to see develop further. Wanting more of something is one of the best criticisms you can level at a film because what we get is equal parts heartbreaking, infuriating, moving and inspiring.
This is essential viewing for those who look at gang violence and see no hope; The Interrupters shows there is still hope and it is worth holding onto.
The Interrupters is available to buy on DVD today and will be available on BBC iPlayer until December 11th.