The Interrupters: A story of restorative justice
Apr 19, 2012
The interrupters program is based on the work of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who compares the spread of violence to the spread of infectious diseases. The interrupters try to stop the infection at its fountainhead, which is where Matthews lives—at the source.
Their approach isn’t all about confrontation, however. Indeed, most of the techniques employed by the interrupters involve walking alongside people who are on the edge of violence. One of those folks is a woman who has been in and out of incarceration throughout her young life. She’s only known condemnation – from family, from peers, from authorities – but Matthews takes a different approach, offering these fiery words: "Do you want to be loved? Absolutely. Do you deserve to be loved? Absolutely."
Two ghastly, societally imposed assumptions are being challenged here: First, that “criminals” are so defiant and antisocial that they don’t even want compassion; second, that they don’t deserve it in the first place. The Interrupters turns those assumptions upside down. When people are met with restorative, rather than simply punitive, justice, real change can come.
Indeed, the interrupters themselves are evidence of this change. Each interrupter we meet, including Matthews, comes from a criminal past. Cobe Williams spent time in and out of prison before joining the movement; in the film, he mentors a young man recently released from prison himself. Eddie Bocanegra committed murder at age 17; we see him share the grief of a 16-year-old girl whose brother died in her arms. At an interrupters meeting, one of the leaders points to the people in the room and remarks, “We’ve got over 500 years of prison time at this table, and that’s a lot of wisdom.”
It takes real wisdom—not to mention grace—to recognize that the faces of the interrupters represent part of the solution rather than remnants of the problem. English poet Francis Thompson used the phrase “Hound of Heaven” to describe the relentless way Jesus Christ seeks to reclaim each of us, no matter where we hide or what our sins. Thompson’s poem is reflected in The Interrupters, a movie whose sense of justice is unrelenting but never oppressive, empathetic but never weak. Watching these interrupters is like watching hounds of Heaven in the chase.