New documentary reveals a ‘hidden war’
From 2000–2001, Dimas Salaberrios worked as a crisis intervention counselor at the Salvation Army’s Wayside Home for Girls in Valley Stream, Long Island. His experience there helped show him what commitment to people in need really looks like. “I remember Major Lois Rader,” he says. “She was one of the most incredible models of a Christian woman I have come across.
“She was absolutely amazing. If one of our girls was in trouble and was 20 or 200 or 300 miles away, Major Rader would say, ‘I have to go find our girl to see how she’s doing.’ The Major would jump in her car and drive 16 hours somewhere to visit the girl. I was like, ‘Wow!’ I really learned from Major Rader how to serve God—even when He is the only one who knows what I’m doing.”
Today, Salaberrios travels many hundreds of miles a year to hotspots in the United States where people march for justice and cry out for emotional and spiritual healing. He is pastor of Infinity Church in the Bronx, N.Y., a social activist, a Christian media personality, and a writer of Street God, an autobiography.
The 2012 Alliance Theological Seminary alumnus (M.Div.) and winner of the Alumnus of the Year, 2021 award is also the maker of a powerful new documentary entitled, “Chicago: America’s Hidden War,” which gained the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Before the finalists were chosen, the film was eligible for consideration as a nominee for “Best Documentary Feature.” It is scheduled for nationwide release in theaters on May 12th and 13th.
Fasting and praying together
“Chicago: America’s Hidden War” follows Salaberrios on a daring journey to fast and pray for a cessation of inner–city violence. Viewers hear from both sides of the conflict. Among them are pastors, gang members, police officers, and community residents.
Salaberrios also captures several moments on film when Christian police officers of color pray with people, even some who have been identified, and listed as street gang shooters. “We created a clergy meeting in Chicago with police officers and members of the faith community,” he says.
“They try to represent their faith as much as they can without crossing a line and being fired. They let these shooters know that they have people who care and want to help them get out of this lifestyle,” said Salaberrios. “They have programs in Chicago where they visit shooters’ homes and let them know that they made the list. These are incredible opportunities for ministry.”
A new paradigm in policing
“The cops in the 90s who became officers after the Vietnam War looked at policing like it was a calling,” says Salaberrios. “Even though they were paid whatever they were given, being a cop was a big part of their identity and they were going to risk their lives.
“Gen X and Millennial cops have a different perspective on policing,” says Salaberrios. “Many of them see it as a job for now and have said to me that it’s more important for them to go home than to put themselves in harm’s way. So, they’ll see a shooting and sometimes they won’t even do a chase. They may feel that the political atmosphere is against them.”
Salabarrios’s assessment is reflected in a Pew Research survey that says 93 percent of officers have become more concerned about their safety, 76 percent are more reluctant to use force, and 72 percent are less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious.*
Waging a winnable war
The stats on violence in Chicago are staggering. The documentary captures the numbers that compare wartime deaths to civilian homicides. According to the U.S. Department of Defense Casualty Status report (May 2021), and the Chicago Police Department, U.S. war–time deaths from 2001 to 2020 in Afghanistan and Iraq were estimated at 7,000. The film compares that number to lives lost in the “hidden war,” which is estimated at 10,000.
Such statistics can be discouraging, but for Salaberrios, they pale in comparison to the inspiring victory he saw happen in the 1990s when Christians took to the streets in response to New York City’s crack epidemic.
“The faith community started hitting the streets with the highest level of evangelism I’ve seen,” he remembers. “They broke out in many ways, like a revival. Churches in the area doubled in size from it. People came from far and wide and created a movement. That was really profound.
“We started meeting with the drug dealers and began to see them in church; people who were addicts; we also saw them in church. I saw the numbers of dealers on the streets decrease.” Salaberrios says that revival–like outcome has yet to be acknowledged fully, but it empowered him to believe other cities could change with similar efforts. “I felt like it was my calling to take that experience to the clergy in Chicago. So, in 2018, we began the ‘Jesus Summer’ campaign there, which is documented in the film “Chicago: America’s Hidden War.”
Salaberrios hopes that when both Christians and others see this movie, they’ll realize their role. “This is not just a Christian movie, it’s a movie for all of us to get involved and do what we can to stop the senseless killings in Chicago.”
by Warren L. Maye
*This wide–ranging survey, one of the largest ever conducted with a nationally representative sample of police, draws on the attitudes and experiences of nearly 8,000 policemen and women from departments with at least 100 officers.