Harlem Teens Aim to End Gun Violence through Film

Fourteen Harlem teens are taking a stand on an issue that is not only affecting their community, but our nation as a whole: gun violence.

Together with the Harlem Hospital Center and The New York County District Attorney’s Office, students from Maysles Institute have created a documentary that offers a raw look at what it means to live and die by the gun. “Triggering Wounds” tells the story of Dedric Hammond, once known throughout the neighborhood as  “Bad News,” a trigger man and fighter with numerous victims. All of that changed the day a rival blasted two bullets through his belly and another into his back. After surviving his injuries, he then suffered two more bullet wounds in a shootout at his mother's home.  It was then that Hammond realized he'd never survive in the cycle of violence. He left that life and made peace with his enemies, going so far as to meditate with the man who shot him and shot up his mother's house.

The 34-year-old is now a violence interrupter working with Operation Harlem SNUG, a program of NYC Mission Society. Affectionately renamed “Beloved,” Hammond aims to be a voice to help young people lead peaceful lives.

“You can see the transformation in this young man from a guy that used to be a banger in the street to now being a person who is trying to interrupt violence,” said Erik Cliette, Director of Harlem Hospital Injury Prevention Program.

According to Cliette, Beloved's street credibility, his powerful story ensures that he has the ear of any gang member he happens to speak to. He's been exactly where they are and he's seen how it is, and more important, how it could be. 

In “Triggering Wounds,” we see Beloved slapping five with the man who shot him, a testament to the life-changing healing that comes with forgiveness.  The filmmakers hope that this message will resonate with the young people most affected by the cycle of violence and the film will be shown at least twice to victims of gun violence, assault, or stabbing that end up in Harlem Hospital, in hopes of fostering dialogue about the choices the victims will make upon leaving their hospital room.

“Triggering Wounds” does a tremendous job of opening your eyes to all the people gun violence touches, from families and friends, to EMTs and morgue technicians.

“I’ve been affected by gun violence, just being in the community, “ shared Tatiyana Jenkins, one of the film’s directors. “When I was younger there were shoot-outs at least once a month.”

“We are interested in injury pre-vention. We want to get this message to kids before they are even in a situation where gun violence could be part of their lives.”

Jenkins explained that although the violence has definitely improved, she was never allowed to make friends on the block because it was too dangerous. She recalls one particular shoot-out that erupted in front of her building, while she and her mom were in their car.

“We couldn’t see where the bullets were going,” explained the high school senior, “but it was just the idea that it was happening so close to us.  Had we gotten out of the car [those bullets could’ve hit us]. “

Jenkins explains now that she is older; she feels a moral responsibility to help spread the message about non-violence in her Harlem community.

“I always thought, ‘Okay you kill or you shoot someone – that’s going to scar you for a while,’ but the repercussions extend even farther.”

The 17-year-old shared a poignant moment during production where a mother who had never once opened up about losing her son, finally recounted the details of the last bear hug he gave her the night he was killed.

“In that room [at the Harlem Mothers SAVE meeting], I understood how detrimental it was for the third and fourth party losing someone they loved so much,” Jenkins stated.

The emotional turmoil is just one effect of gun violence that the documentary highlights. It also touches on the finality of death – there is no glamor, no glory, for a gang banger at the end. 

Cliette notes that the hope is to one day use “Triggering Wounds,” which won best documentary in the “Our City, My Story” Youth showcase of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, in group therapy and to have it shown in both middle schools and high schools.

“We are interested in injury pre-vention. We want to get this message to kids before they are even in a situation where gun violence could be part of their lives.”

While Harlem has seen five less people shot this year than at this time in 2012, there is still much do to around the issue of gun violence. According to Cliette, it is an epidemic that is finally receiving national attention with tragedies like the Trayvon Martin and Sandy Hook shootings.

“The majority of the country has a certain perception of the hoods of the country,” he stated.” You know that [act of violence] happened because the hood is riddled with crime and that’s expected, but when you see children from the finer neighborhoods also being gunned, I think