“You guys all play a part. We’re a piece of the puzzle,” Angalia Bianca of CeaseFire Illinois told a packed audience at the APHA Student Assembly’s National Student Meeting this Saturday morning in Chicago. “We need to somehow find an answer.”
In Chicago, the problem has been in the headlines recently, with 2,546 total gun violence incidents and 377 deaths so far this year. In October alone, 226 incidents have resulted in 27 deaths.
But what you won’t read about in the headlines is all the violence that’s been prevented by public health heroes like Bianca and her colleagues. During the meeting’s morning panel on “Addressing Violence At All Levels,” Bianca said CeaseFire has prevented more than 700 incidents of violence this year through mediation. Bianca emphasized that “these are real life-and-death situations,” noting that during 400 CeaseFire mediation sessions, at least one person has brought a weapon.
Her CeaseFire colleague Jesse Salazar talked about the importance of mentors and community leaders when it comes to tackling the growing problem of gun violence.
“We’ve done a lot of looking for mentors to reach out to young people in our community,” Salazar said. Local clergy play a huge part in helping address gun violence, he noted, and CeaseFire has worked with the local park district to bring more green space to the community.
Rebecca Levin, director of Strengthening Chicago’s Youth, said a public health approach is key to reducing violence. That means not only common-sense gun laws, but also more investment in children and youth and our communities as well as better access to quality mental health care.
“We have to stop this systemic disinvestment in our children and our communities. That’s a huge policy issue that needs to be addressed,” she told meeting attendees. And the “decimated” mental health system needs attention, especially considering 60 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental health issue, and 70 percent of those youth have co-existing substance abuse problems.
Mighty Fine, APHA’s gun violence expert, reminded students that there is much we can do to “get real” about solutions to gun violence, including demanding more funding and fewer restrictions on research. Think “health and safety in all policies,” he said, and give attention to the places where violence intersects with other aspects of public health, such as safe routes to school.
“We can’t become the healthiest nation in one generation without acknowledging the toll of violence,” Fine said.
Follow #FTGU15 to find out what students are saying about their meeting — “From the Ground Up: Translating Science Into Policy Using the Public Health Perspective” — and the issue of gun violence.