The new documentary series "Life After The Gunshot” chronicles one researcher’s solution to the gun violence that plagues the U.S. — listening.
In the Washington, D.C., area, University of Maryland professor Joseph Richardson teamed up with violence intervention specialist Che Bullock to meet young men at their hospital bedside after they had been shot and intervene in the cycle of gun violence. By listening and guiding, Richardson and Bullock helped 116 young men cope with their trauma, as gun violence continues to disproportionately affect communities of color.
One man featured in the documentary, called Slim, explains that kids in his neighborhood aren’t aware of the cycle of trauma and violence that they’re born into.
"Everybody that I know got a family member dead or locked up,” the D.C.-based rapper says in the series. “I'm in a cycle. As soon as I'm born, I'm already in a cycle. The next generation is in a cycle right now.”
Slim was hospitalized with multiple stab wounds, says Bullock, executive producer of the documentary. Over the course of a couple of months, Bullock and Richardson built a relationship with Slim.
“[Slim] started to disclose some of the trauma he's been through. And he was open to help,” Bullock says. “And I think that was the biggest thing with Slim is that he came in with an open mind and open heart.”
Gradually establishing a relationship based on trust helps people open up about their trauma and learn how to cope through mental health resources. The duo aims to understand the trauma these men experience both before and after their injury, Richardson says, and the ways structural violence impacts their lives.
Through the documentary, Richardson and Bullock wanted to visually show the impacts of living in impoverished food deserts on the mens’ lives — risk factors that often lead them back to the hospital. Six out of 10 of these young Black men may have been hospitalized two or more times for other serious injuries, he says.
“We were also really interested in making sure and assuring that their stories were heard because as academics, we can write our findings, and typically we place them in peer-reviewed journals, and few people will ever read them,” he says. “But we really wanted a broader population of people that are not familiar with this work to understand the lives of these young men and to humanize their lives as well.”
'The Blessing Within The Burden'
Bullock’s personal experiences help him connect with these injured, traumatized men. A believer in the law of attraction, he shares his personal story in hopes that the men will reciprocate by opening up about their own lives.
“Other professionals would walk into these rooms and they don't know how to build a relationship with these gentlemen,” he says. “They come in there judging, right, and the guys could feel that energy.”
Bullock nearly lost his life after he was stabbed 13 times at a local club in D.C. After the incident, he entered Richardson’s violence intervention program in its early days.
In the series, his dad answers a question about how he felt hearing his son had been seriously injured and stabbed.
“When his sister told me what had happened, you know what I'm saying, I said, ‘well, okay, that's part of the game. That's the life you live.’ ” his dad said. “When God sent the angel, it was you, man. Because that's not the life I want for my son.”
The angel he's referring to is Richardson. Before this conversation, Bullock felt like he was the only person impacted by the stabbing. His father’s acknowledgment of the injuries and the “blessing within the burden” of meeting Richardson made Bullock happy, Bullock says.
His father was incarcerated the first time the two met, and Bullock says he can only imagine the trauma his dad experienced.
“To see his son come from a place where I was, you know, lacking certain social skills to where I am today, of course it meant something because I'm accomplishing things that he didn't accomplish,” Bullock says. “And I think that's all part of being a father — to see your son do better than what you did.”
Meeting Richardson changed the course of Bullock’s life. A few months after the stabbing, Richardson invited Bullock to speak in front of a class. The students were interested in Bullock’s journey and asked questions — but he found himself in another violent situation soon after he left the class.
“I went from speaking to a college class to getting my car shot up on the highway in the span of an hour and a half,” he says. “So once that happened, that's when I knew I had to make a change for the better.”
Investing In 'A Healthier Society'
The documentary profiled 10 young men, and one of them was shot to death in 2019.
Only one of the other 115 men has returned to the hospital with a violent injury, which is close to 1% trauma recidivism, Richardson says. The rate was 32% at that hospital when Richardson began his work, he says.
“The young men are doing OK,” he says. “But I think they could do actually much better than they're doing right now if we had more resources to commit to improving their lives. But for what we've done up to this point, they've been quite successful.”
The Biden administration committed $5 billion to community violence prevention after the recent deadly shootings in Georgia and Colorado.
Richardson says preventing structural violence requires investment. And another obstacle in their work is a lack of funding for gun violence research and researchers of color working on the issue, he says.
“It's an investment that we all need to make in order to have a healthier society,” Richardson says, “because no one should have to die at the hands of a gun.”
Editor's note: The following video includes clips of violence. Viewer discretion is advised.
This segment aired on April 7, 2021.