Race, Equity and Violence

On Tuesday, June 2nd, The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill hosted the 2015 National Health Equity Research Webcast. Frank Perez, National Program Director for Cure Violence and Leon T. Andrews Jr, Director of REAL at the National League of Cities and a Cure Violence International Advisory Board member, presented to the forum on the subjects of race, equity and violence within communities.

Frank Perez explained the Cure Violence health model to the audience, including the central tenet of the Cure Violence health model — that violence is contagious, and like a disease, is treatable. Violence as a contagion has characteristics of clustering, epidemic waves, and transmission. Because violence is contagious, communities and individuals become infected because it is a learned behavior. (From Pamela Jumper Thurman’s PowerPoint) The media portrays violence as commonplace, a way to solve problems and even normative. One report estimates that a child finishing elementary school has witnessed 8,000 murders on television and 100,000 other acts of interpersonal violence. Repeated violence can desensitize young viewers because the pain and other effects of violence are minimized or not shown. When a child experiences or sees violent behavior in the home including spousal abuse, high risk activity within the community, they are 30x more likely to repeat the same behavior and view it as ‘normal behavior’.

It’s possible to stop the contagion of violence by interrupting the transmission, preventing future spread and changing group norms.  Cure Violence employs credible messengers or “interrupters” and trains them to become health workers to identify, detect and mediate conflicts.  According to various independent studies and evaluations, the Cure Violence model has resulted in a significant reduction in shootings and killings within Cure Violence zones in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Loiza, P.R.,  San Pedro Sula, Kenya, Cape Town, Iraq, Syria and various other sites nationally and internationally. Perez explains that violence should not be viewed as a moral problem, or something that “bad” people do. There is a better way to to understand violence: bad people vs learned behavior, enemies vs negative norms, isolated incidents vs contagion, punishment vs disease control, and intractable vs solvable. For until the transmission of violence is stopped, it will be impossible to eradicate violence.

Leon Andrews followed Perez as a speaker at the forum.  “Every 24 hours an average 14 African American men are murdered due to gun violence. That’s today, that’s tomorrow, and that’s the next day. Every 15 days 435 people die due to homicide, neglect, abuse, and suicide. That’s the equivalent of Congress. Fourteen young men will be gunned down today. Where is the urgency?”

“Violence is not Ebola. When the US encounters Ebola and two people are dead, the whole government comes in to help. Where is the same level of urgency?” Andrews asked.  He went on to speak about equity.  According to Andrews, equity does not mean everyone gets the same. Instead, it means that everyone gets what they need. “The amount of valuable African American males who are being killed each day is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.”

Violence should not be tolerated in any society. It is an international concern and should be dealt with immediately using a health approach. If we can convince society to look at violence the same way they look at disease, then we can change community norms until violence is significantly reduced and ultimately eliminated.