Sometimes I Feel That Bear Hug
“Welcome to Harlem,” reads a sign at the start of Triggering Wounds. And with this, the camera cuts to Dedric Hammond, who fills the frame. It’s not just because he’s large, though his broad shoulders certainly contribute to the effect. It’s also because he’s effusive, telling his story with gestures that direct the camera’s focus and language that makes vivid what’s he’s remembering, that is, a gunfight.
Pointing at the street, 34-year-old Dedric explains that he was in high school when it happened. He points, “The first time I was shot up,” he says, “it was in the middle of the street.” He’s not sure now why he was fighting. “They called me Bad News,” he remembers, “I was going off emotions and I was feeling some type of way.” When he was shot, in his stomach and his back, he fell, and as he was laying on the pavement, unable to move his legs, a friend tried to calm him. “I wanted to chill,” Dedric says, “But how do I chill? I’m Bad News.”
Looking back, Dedric sees that his idea of himself then was shaped by expectations, his own and others’, that you “show and prove who you are.” As he speaks, the camera follows him, his jacket bearing the word “SNUG” (“guns” spelled backward), his wide back a mobile billboard. Now, known as Beloved, he’s working as a violence interrupter, and hopes to lay out options so others might see them, and so he’s working with the young filmmakers in the Teen Producers Academy at the Maysles Institute, part of the 15-minute documentary, Triggering Wounds, screening from 26 April through 3 May at Maysles Cinema, part of a program that includes youth performances, panel discussions, and other short films.
Triggering Wounds expands from Dedric’s experience—as a shooter and a survivor—to consider other experiences as well, those of parents, paramedics, an undertaker and a morgue attendant. In addition to interviews, the film features footage of a meeting of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., where cofounder Jackie Rowe-Adams describes how grateful she is that she had the opportunity to say goodbye to her son before he was killed in the street near their home, because no one knows when such a thing will happen, and most miss that chance. “I lay in my bed and I swear, sometimes I feel that bear hug,” she says, the parents gathered around her nodding, some smiling and others tearful at the thought of what they miss, what they have, and what they want to see.
Among the things they and others in the community don’t want to see, of course, is the increasingly easy access that children and others have to weapons—faster, larger, deadlier. The effects of these weapons live on in grieving parents. “When my son died, I died too,” says one father, “I’m hurting right now, I’m always hurting.” The effects are made visible too in the tour of the morgue offered by the attendant Khalil. He, like Dedric, points out what the camera might take in, the gurneys and the autopsy instruments, the bucket where a brain sits, cut up and preserved, and window to the viewing room, where, he says, looking directly into the camera, “You never want your family to be because you chose to be young and running the streets.” Those streets, he underlines, will never love you back, they’ll never give back. And so he asks you to see what he’s seen, the costs of poverty, ignorance and fear, the costs seeing yourself in and as Bad News.