Alex Kotlowitz is the author of There Are No Children Here (Nan A. Talese) and The Other Side of the River (Nan A. Talese). His documentary, The Interrupters, opened in theaters over the summer and will air on PBS's Frontline early next year.
When I first began reporting from Chicago's West Side 24 years ago, what most upended me was the violence. Four boys I got to know have since been murdered, another two convicted of murder. One mother whom I befriended fell so deep into grief after a gang member executed her 15-year-old son that for a period of time she could eat nothing but sand. Such violence disrupts the psyche of communities. Businesses leave. Schools can't teach. Families, if they're able, move out. On Chicago's West or South Side, block-club signs, ordinarily a testament of cohesiveness and pride, reflect a community back on its heels. One sign, which is typical, reads: "No loitering. No gambling dice or cards. No alcohol drinking. No playing loud music. No repairing cars. No playing ball."