New series explores the effects of gun violence on the South, West sides

November 12, 2019
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A new documentary series exploring the perspectives of people whose lives have been affected by gun violence on Chicago’s South and West sides launches Nov. 12 on WTTW.

The series, FIRSTHAND: Gun Violence, follows five individuals who have been affected by gun violence and highlights the ways they have transformed their tragedy into hope and action.

“It’s especially important with gun violence that we give a voice to the people who have lived it,” said Dan Protess, who directs and produces the series. “Often, all you get to hear is a quick sound bite from someone who was shot or lost a loved one, and you never really get to hear from that person.”

The series tells the stories of:

  • Reality Allah, an outreach worker for READI Chicago who spent 22 years in prison for murder
  • Julie Anderson, a mother who advocates for incarcerated individuals and their families after her son was sentenced to life in prison for murdering two women
  • Jsaron Jones, 29-year-old who is in recovery after a neighborhood rivalry led to him being shot in the leg
  • Noemi Martinez, a mother whose son was murder 15 years ago and now manages support groups at Chicago Survivors
  • India Hart, an Auburn Gresham high school senior who is followed through the academic year in the wake of losing her father, her uncle and a friend.

Looking at how gun violence affects each individual, Protess hopes to show audiences that this problem isn’t hundreds of miles away but in their backyard.

“I want our viewers to understand the complexity of the issues that lead someone to pull the trigger and the fallout after someone has been shot,” Protess said. “The people who are responsible for the city’s gun violence have been traumatized, [so] what can we do to help them heal?”

There will also be a series of FIRSTHAND: Talks that will look at crime prevention and community strategies featuring experts who have dealt with gun violence directly.

One of the experts is Jermaine Harris, a community policing sergeant in the 15th District, who talks about using social justice as a means of supporting the Austin community.

“We’re really about changing the dynamic and changing the culture everywhere, not just within the police department but also within our [communities],” said Harris, who has helped launched police-sponsored youth baseball teams and hosted job fair events.

“It starts with social justice work, addressing those issues that involve access and bringing resources and opportunities to people that have been neglected for so long,” Harris said.

Jose Abonce, a community organizer at Austin Coming Together, has known Harris for his work in the community and partnership with the Austin Response Team, a community-led crime prevention task-force.

“The 15th District has been a good example of how the police can partner with the community to build a greater sense of trust and safety,” Abonce said.

Also working as the lead organizer for the Quality of Life Plan, Abonce said the documentary series will help change the community’s narrative.

“A big component of trying to shift the narrative and to redefine how the criminal justice system works in Austin is our efforts to integrate restorative justice practices in the Austin community,” he said. “In a sense, this can bring the community to the issue and really be able to provide a different and deeper solution.”

Screenings of the documentary series will be free to the public and involve an open discussion with Protess and some individuals involved in the project.

Upcoming community events include:

  • 6 p.m. Nov. 12 at Kennedy-King College, 6301 S. Halsted St.
  • 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd.

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