No Stone Unturned – The Sweetest Land

Over the past five years, I have filmed victims of urban violence in Hartford, Connecticut. My camera captured intimate footage of the injured and their families as well as the surgeons, nurses and first responders who attended to them. I followed some of these stories long after the news crews left and the political speeches wrapped up. As a film professor at a state University, I recorded not only the violence in the city and its impact on residents, but also the crucial need for interventions. It turned out that I learned more than I expected. This footage became the basis for a documentary entitled The Sweetest Land.

On one occasion, while documenting the Police Intelligence Division, I captured a live shootout between the Hartford police and three suspects in a car. I did my best to take cover when the shooting began and as I crouched behind the bumper of a truck, I felt paralyzed. When the gunfire ended, I cautiously took up my camera and resumed filming. Two African American men lay bleeding as the police attended to their injuries. Nearby, a five year-old girl with a princess backpack was watching the scene.

One of the men had been shot in the face and he looked up at me briefly.  I filmed as quietly as possible, watching with concern as his body grew slack and his moans quieted.  It was at that moment when I understood – what I was capturing also came with an extreme obligation.

As scenes like this one play out repeatedly, it seems that we have a responsibility to ask ourselves the question: Is the best we can do? If these young men had been connected with an effective system of support and offered a roadmap to a more productive life, could this ending have been avoided – the gunfire, the bloodshed, and the five year-old girl who witnessed it all?

When violent tragedy struck in Newtown, Connecticut, we saw politicians and celebrities step up publicly with much-needed advocacy and victim support. This same level of engagement is also needed – and deserved – by America’s urban communities and families.

Luis Torres was shot in the Back in Hartford's North End.  His recovery humanizes the entire issue.

There is research and solutions right in front of us.  Finding those elected officials, relevant organizations and community groups who will seek it out and implement it,  ironically is a greater challenge.

By Jeffrey Teitler

For additional information: THE SWEETEST LAND