Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Calling the Police

by Art Hazelwood

Chain Reaction is a participatory research and popular education project started with the goal of supporting conversations about alternatives to calling police on young people. When police intervene in situations involving young people, ranging from loitering and petty crimes to violence, police involvement typically sets off a chain of events that can have far-reaching effects on a young person’s life.

The first stage of Chain Reaction documents these effects from the perspective of young people in Chicago who have had direct encounters with police. Volunteers and peer-to-peer workers will compile video and audio recordings as well as transcribed interviews.

The second stage of Chain Reaction involves the creation of digital stories based on young people’s interviews. These stories will eventually be available online. We will also host a series of listening sessions to document community responses to hearing these stories.

The third stage of Chain Reaction will be to turn our listening sessions into interactive workshops that ask people to reflect upon a set of questions within the context of their own communities:

1. What is the chain reaction that we would ideally like to create in response to fear, violence, or harm?
2. What resources do we already have in our communities to begin this chain reaction?
3. What alternatives to calling police exist for those considering using police interventions with young people?
4. What alternatives would we like to create?

We anticipate that these workshops will be offered to local block clubs, religious institutions, CAPS and other community organizations.

The final stage of Chain Reaction will be to create a toolkit so that other interested communities can replicate this project. We will also document what we have learned about the willingness and feasibility of local communities developing true alternatives to involving the police in youth misbehavior.

Working with Youth
In order to open up a conversation about a tough topic (policing and violence), we will spend about an hour with any interested young people doing a talking circle. A talking circle is a way to introduce the sorts of restorative justice practices we use at Project NIA, but it’s also a very flexible structure: essentially, young people are just encouraged to share about themselves and some of their experiences, and listen to each other’s stories. It also gives us as potential interviewers a chance to introduce ourselves without a camera or audio recorder in between us.

After the circle, we will conduct interviews with whoever is interested in being interviewed. They can be video-taped, audio recorded, or just have their interview transcribed if they choose, and youth will be asked to sign a consent form.

If time is an issue, we could potentially come one day for a circle, and another day for interview; doing it all at once is ideal and it would take between 2 and 3 hours. The outcome of the interviews will be integrated into a website and interactive workshop we are creating for Chain Reaction.

Who Can Participate in Chain Reaction Circles and Interviews?
We are looking to talk to young people ages 12 to 22 about their encounters with the police.

Project Volunteers
This project is volunteer-led and volunteer-run. We need volunteers who can conduct youth interviews, who are skilled at video and audio editing, who are able to transcribe interviews, who are willing to conduct listening sessions, who have graphic design skills, etc… If you have any of these skills, we invite you to join us for this project.

Our volunteer orientation is scheduled on November 5th. Please contact us if you would like to be invited to the orientation.

Who to contact for general information or to arrange a circle/interview session with youth you work with?
You can contact Project NIA at or you can contact project coordinator, Lewis Wallace, at

Click here to download the description of Chain Reaction


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