Secret Life of a Violence Interrupter
One South African ex-con spends his days defusing deadly encounters by getting right up in the middle of things.
Illustration by J. Longo
“He got shot through his ears,” Khiyaam Frey says. It’s a late March day in Hanover Park, a rundown suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. Outside, nothing much seems to be happening. A few road workers are building new sidewalks; the occasional shirtless youth strolls down the otherwise empty streets. A few miles west, Table Mountain looms, looking as placid as the neighborhood. In his boss’ sparse office, Frey, forty-five, leans his tall, lean body back in an office chair, sits stock-still, and explains why the peace around here is a brief illusion.
He’d know. He’s a professional violence interrupter, and here in Hanover Park, he’s on duty twenty-four hours a day.
Violence interruption is a specialized form of community health work invented fifteen years ago. Frey, a lifelong resident of Cape Town, is part of a web of interrupters that stretches across seven countries on four continents. Each place uses the method perfected by that first organization, Ceasefire, i…