Saturday, October 31, 2015

Violence is "very personal"

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."

— N.M.


Ray Lewis said...

I looked for a Cure Violence program in my state at
The 52 sites – 23 cities seem to be in less than a dozen states and one territory.
Funding for effective programs needs political will to start and maintain.

restorative justice hubs offer community involvement along with crime victims and offenders, and provides an alternative to the punitive system that's stuck.

Hip Hop and Spoken Word build on youth culture, and can offer positive therapeutic growth and role models.

Ray Lewis said...

This session was on one of the most important and divisive health, justice and human rights issues of our day.

Gary Slutkin describes a stuck system as when the way we think about something prevents a solution. The cutting edge of public health deals with wicked problems that deal with complex issues cutting across multiple sectors. At one point in human evolution we were certain that everything revolved around the earth and diseases were caused by humors, but a scientific method changed our beliefs and how we frame our shared world. Through a science lens, violence is now best viewed in a contagious disease model, and where early exposure to violence is compounded by other adverse childhood experiences.

However, many people that make and/or support existing public policies are stuck in an outdated narrative based in the assumption that bad people are the problem, a police state is required to maintain order, punitive sentences will deter others, if a story bleeds it leads in the mainstream media, elections can be won with a get tough on crime approach, for-profit prisons are an acceptable part of capitalism, that if the present mix of public responses doesn't work we just need to do more of it. As a society, we don't want to accept that the racialized face of violence with victims and perpetrators is used to prove a point.

The good news is that violence is preventable. Research on trauma informed care shows that risk factors are not completely predictive because protective factors can be built into the environment. Members from the community are needed in the roles of violence interrupters, outreach, education and prevention roles. These are the jobs for a public health approach, but the role of educational and criminal history background checks may need to get flipped.

It's taken about a decade for ACES research to gain traction after seven years of research to develop and document the theory. If we lack the political will to change, perhaps we need to look further behind the current narrative of crime and justice at the role of racism that is creating the power structure of decision making.

The root cause of root causes may be more related to historical trauma passed through generations, compounded by institutional and structural racism that can't be acknowledged without unresolved guilt and blame, and the lack of hope that things can change.

When will the public health system respond like the last sentence of the Pledge of Allegience were more than just hollow words mouthed before official meetings?