PATERSON, NJ – Teddy Martinez says he has been shot 11 times. Jamal Hall recalls the students lost to violence when he was a teacher at Eastside High School. Robert Harrell holds peace rallies to try to steer Paterson teenagers away from gangs.
The three of them channeled their experiences on Paterson’s streets into a documentary, “Death By Design,” that debuted last Thursday at the Fabian 8 at Center City Mall. The theater was almost filled to capacity.
Tom Curry was among the city residents who came out to see the film. He said the documentary gave him a sense of hopelessness and he said he could understand why some would say the violence afflicting city streets is by design.
But Curry also said he believes that the solution should be by design as well. “I was impressed by the one speaker that said it’s going to have to start one block at a time, block by block by block, that’s a design to me,” said Curry.
Another Patersonian, Jeremy Jones, said he thought the documentary was informative. Jones said he has had four friends die on 12th Avenue from violence. He said he himself has been shot, robbed and pistol-whipped.
Incarceration, Jones said, changed his life. After being released from jail, Jones said he has gone to college and worked for five years for an ambulance company. He also has his own business.
“They say it takes a village to raise a kid and it does,’’ said Jones, “but if you don’t have no one there, they’re just going to turn into savages and that’s pretty much what it is.”
“I was raised in an era where you fought,’’ he added. “These kids are out here just grabbing guns and killing them which is what they think is easy and I just don’t really understand it.”
Martinez and Harrell produced the film, while Hall directed it.
Hall said he has seen his own share of violence. “It’s crazy and it’s sad because I was a teacher at Eastside High School in Paterson for 12 years and I saw a lot of kids go,” he said. “Shot. Killed. Gone. I’d have a kid come to class three months and just disappear. Don’t know what happened. Same thing with females.”
“So the violence hurts and hits home because you get to work with these kids and work real close with them and they go and that’s it,” said Hall.
Harrell hopes his community work with youths might steer some in the right direction. “Maybe this will change something,’’ Harrell said, “when they think back and say, ‘You know what, I did three or four peace rallies with Mr. H. and why am I going to do this?’ when that person puts that gun in their hand and says, ‘I want you to take somebody’s life for me.’’’
The documentary was Martinez’ idea. “I’ve seen a lot of death in our community,’’ he said, “a lot of violence, I myself am a victim of violence, I was shot 11 times.”
In Martinez’ opinion, the state of the inner city is no accident. “Honestly speaking, I feel that in certain situations that it is designed for us to continue to be inside the struggle,’’ he said.