“The first thing people do when they get into an a conflict is go for a gun” was the statement of an 18-year old girl at the Harlem Renaissance High School React to Film (RtF) program.

Marlon Peterson, program coordinator of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets and former Save Our Streets Violence Interrupter and Radel Clause the YO S.O.S AmeriCorps program associate traveled from Crown Heights Brooklyn to Harlem to speak with the students in the RtF program. Marlon and Radel visited the Harlem school adjacent to the Frederick Douglas Houses to speak with the teens about the movie The Interrupters and realities of gun violence in their own lives.

Marlon shared his experiences as a Violence Interrupter in Brooklyn and the class delved into a lively discussion about whether violence truly acts like a disease, as the The Interrupters emphasizes. Dennis, one of the students initially objected to that notion, expressing that everyone isn’t affected by gun violence the way a disease affects people.  Marlon asked the students to raise their hands if the following questions applied to them:
  • Do you know someone that has been shot or know someone that has shot another person?
  • Have you ever heard gunshots (either outside your window at home or anywhere else in your neighborhood)? Before the age of 18? Before the age of 14? Before the age of 11?

Sadly, to both questions every student except for one all hands were raised. The students reflected on their answers and began acknowledging the effects that such experiences have on their decision-making. Many agreed that at this point gun violence is viewed as normal and “just a way of life in the hood.”  Further discussion with classmates led Dennis and other students began to understand the perspective that violence can act like a disease. The importance of this acknowledgement is that if we accept that violence acts like a disease we can accept that it can be interrupted, or cured.  The hour and half ended with this same young man, Dennis, asking Marlon and Radel, “how can I be involved with S.O.S and YO S.O.S?” 

Slowly, but surely our message that gun violence is NOT normal is shifting from whispers of a few in to reverberations of many.

View The Interrupters trailer here: