Don’t Be Scared, Be Scary

Both of Kotlowitz’s articles, “Blocking the Transmission of Violence” and  “I See Everything Through This Tragedy,” trace the patterns and effects of violence by following the stories of individuals as well as an organization.

In “Blocking the Transmission of Violence,” Kotlowitz follows CeaseFire, an organization that “tries to deal with these quarrels on the front end.” Violence Interrupters are typically individuals who have been deep in the gang system at one point or another; they know how gang leader’s minds work. This organization also recognizes the relationship between tragedies; events of violence often lead to one another. Gary Slutkin, founder of CeaseFire, said “[p]unishment doesn’t drive behavior…copying and modeling and the social expectations of your peers is what drives your behavior.” With this in mind, the interrupters are trying to change a mindset, emphasizing the power in being able “to walk away from events where all expectations were that you were supposed to respond with lethal force.” The interrupters are really driving to change the way that gang members and other people who participate in violence think. They know the logic of the people they’re working with; they’ve been there. That’s what makes this organization so unique, in my opinion. They’re working to prevent solitary acts of harm on a very personal, individual basis.

On the other hand, “I See Everything Through This Tragedy” tells of the explicit effects of this violence. Through the retelling of these peoples’ stories, Kotlowitz illustrates how “such anguish can be a kind of purgatory.” This is not a psychological analysis, for I’m not sure that the author is qualified to do that, but it is definitely recognizing the sorrow and fear that those affected feel. He doesn’t offer a solution, but he does account for the pain. In a brief account of a handful of individuals, he gets at the heart of how piercing the grief can be.

I deeply appreciate what CeaseFire does as an organization, and I hope that they eventually get more funding for their program. The name itself is powerful. While I believe the work they’re doing is essential to the betterment of society, I also believe that there needs to be preventative measures taken in the schools. I think there should be a plan for educating the youth, and I think Kotlowitz would do a good job investigating the best way to formulate this kind of education plan to eradicate the ills of violence at an early age through his journalism. Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, once said that “it is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” If we start educating children who are at the highest risk for gang involvement, they will at least have the tools to challenge the expectations that they are often held to. Their young minds are often trained so early to “be scary,” instead of being afraid of others. This idea of preventing this enculturation of violence in the minds of our youth would transform the statistics with time.

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