In Chicago, there are neighborhood heroes patrolling some of the city’s most precarious blocks and while they do not seek notoriety or acclaim, they make it possible for its residents to go back and forth peaceably. Those heroes are known as Interrupters. They are a part of an anti-violence organization called CeaseFire. So important is the work of CeaseFire that it inspired a movie. The film is a stirring and insightful yearlong journey through Chicago’s inner city. Oscar-nominated director Steve James of Hoop Dreams, in collaboration with Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here, follows three courageous “violence interrupters” as they mediate and defuse often volatile situations. When it premiered in August at the Gene Siskel Theater Film Center, the film broke the 40-year old venue’s all-time box-office record. The response to the film has been so great that it is returning for a limited two-week run. CeaseFire member Bernard Baltimore took time to discuss the organization’s mission with rolling out.

What is CeaseFire?

CeaseFire intervenes in crises, mediates disputes between individuals, and intercedes on group disputes to prevent violent events. Our staff is [comprised of] seasoned, well-trained professionals … with a background on the streets. The Interrupters are a component of CeaseFire. We try to stop violence on the front end — the opposite of the police who respond after a crime has been committed

What is your particular role with CeaseFire?

As an Interrupter my job is to go out into the community and stop the guys who are doing the shooting and killing — [and] try to get those guys to put their guns down and to see there is another way out.

What is the movie’s and CeaseFire’s overall message to communities across Chicago?

Our message is stop the shooting.  Stop the killing.  Save a future, save our kids.

Certainly the work can be dangerous. Is your family concerned about your safety?

I’ve got the great support of my wife and four kids. My wife has been bitten by the CeaseFire bug and worries about me. My wife has been in certain places where guns were pulled on me and she asked me to walk away from the job. [But] through the work I am doing, I hope to get off the streets.

For more information on CeaseFire, contact CeaseFire.com or [email protected]

–tony binns