Violence in America: Can We Change This Picture?


Can America prevent or reduce the violence that shatters so many lives—and leaves so many communities and families bereft?

The first step in getting there, a symposium at John Jay College was told yesterday, is addressing the social forces and the psychological traumas that create the conditions—sometimes from an early age—in which violence is a first reaction to adversity.

In many of the country's most at-risk neighborhoods, young people are suffering a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is not “post” but “consistent,” said Howard Pinderhughes, who teaches social and behavioral sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

“You go through these neighborhoods, (and you see memorial) altars springing up every other week. This is what kids walk by…this is what they see. It's a constant and consistent reminder of what their outlook is, what their opportunities are, (and) what, perhaps, their future is.

“One in three have lost a close friend or family member to violence. Almost one out of two have a close friend or family member who was seriously injured by violence.”

But Pinderhughes, who works with the nationwide network UNITY (Urban Networks to Increase Thriving Youth), also noted that some 40 community-based organizations around the country are now working with young people at risk of being impacted by violence—part of a growing movement that is often concealed by the grim daily headlines.

Other social sciences experts, psychologists, educators, and criminal justice professionals who spoke to the conference made the same point, in an appeal to the media to pay as much attention to the “solutions” employed in various places—based on scientific evidence and best practices—as to the problem of violence.

Greater knowledge and wider dissemination of the new research could also inform police practices, said Dean Esserman, Chief of the New Haven Police Department.

Esserman said New Haven's police academy is one of the few in the country that offers special education to new recruits on child development issues.

“The power of a caring uniform can be profound,” he said.

He said that more police forces needed to harness the findings of current research into the roots of violence as an essential tool in building greater trust. New Haven now requires every police officer to spend a year walking a neighborhood beat before they ever step into a patrol car.

“It's not a transactional relationship for them—it's a transformational relationship,” Esserman said. “You learn a lot about power and you learn a lot about humility when you have to return to the same beat every day.”

The two-day conference, co-sponsored by John Jay's Center for Media, Crime and Justice and the Solutions Journalism Network, continues today.

For live access to the discussions, please follow @thecrimereport on Periscope. Links to the live stream are available on our Twitter page.

Alice Popovici is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers' comments.

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