When Mark Payne thinks about violence being the leading cause of death of young black and Hispanic men, he said he doesn’t think about blank bodies and faces. He thinks about human potential.
“I think of young men who could be doctors,” said Payne, executive director of CeaseFire Illinois, a Chicago-based group dedicated to reducing gun violence. “Those are our natural resources. I see me. I see my friends. And it’s very personal.”
Payne talked about violence as a public health issue at Community Health Planning and Policy Development Section’s Day of Action held Saturday at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. The event was a community summit focused on gun violence in Chicago and how to stop it.
Chicago-area public health advocates looked at violence as a public health issue and the best practices to reducing violence in Chicago and beyond.
Being exposed to violence should be looked at the same way as being exposed to a contagious disease, such as the flu, Gary Slutkin, MD, the founder of Cure Violence, a nongovernmental organization of which CeaseFire Illinois is the state’s branch.
Cure Violence trains residents of violent neighborhoods to be “violence interrupters” based in communities and local hospitals. These community workers do outreach and identify the underlying public health issues that could put people at risk of being involved in community violence.
Seeing violence as an infection is particularly important as the issue of criminal justice reform comes more into focus, Slutkin said.
“It’s heading toward saying, ‘Well, they’re bad people, but we’re going to lighten up a little bit and be a little nicer,’” Slutkin said. “But the lens is still wrong…what’s going on with the people is they’ve been infected, exposed, traumatized. They need care and they need very, very specific care.
One approach to reducing violence is the use of restorative justice, which means bringing together the victim of violence, the person who caused harm and the community that is suffering, said Michelle Day, an attorney who works in the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Department Resource Section.
One example of an initiative the Section is involved with is the “Embrace Restorative Justice in Schools” program in Chicago Public Schools. The program is a partnership of community organizations that are specialized in education and restorative justice that create implementation plans for reducing violence in schools.
“It’s not about just having peace circles and conversations with youth,” Day said. “It’s about getting educators in a learning mode to see what it takes to have a restorative environment in the school so that the first response to trouble is not to call police, not to suspend the child but to find an alternative."