Read the original article here.
Upending Twisted Norms
Chigaco-- One of the most frightening aspects of the murderous violence plaguing so many urban neighborhoods across the country is the widespread notion among young people that killing somebody who ticks you off is normal. It's something that is only to be expected, like eating when you're hungry.
If a stranger or someone from a rival clique steps on your clean, white sneakers, or makes a crack about your manhood, or laughs at you, putting a bullet in his heart or his head is seen by an awful lot of young people as an appropriate response. This is a form of crazed thinking that needs to be confronted and changed.
Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who began focusing more than a decade ago on urban violence as a public health matter, has developed a program that is making progress in altering such behavior, and thus reducing the violence. Antiviolence initiatives that actually work are desperately needed to cut down on the slaughter that continues with numbing regularity, year after tragic year.
Two to three dozen school-age children are killed in Chicago every year. More than 150 have been shot in the current school year. And Chicago is hardly America's most dangerous city.
The toll is greatest among young, black and Hispanic residents whose daily experiences are far removed from the American mainstream. Most inner-city youngsters are not violent, but nearly all are touched by the violence in one way or another. The main problem is the acceptance of murder as normal behavior by so many inner-city young people.
"These violent behaviors are learned," said Dr. Slutkin. "They are largely formed by modeling, the almost unconscious copying of one another. And then they are maintained by the social pressure of peers. It becomes normal to reach for a gun.
"What happens is these guys have a grievance, just like everybody has a grievance. Most of it is interpersonal. It's not so much gang-related or the stuff of television dramas. They're shooting each other over things like, ‘He looked at my girl,' ‘He disrespected me,' ‘He cut in front of me in line,' ‘He owed me money.' And then, of course, there is the retaliation: ‘He shot my brother or my friend.'
"These grievances require that they shoot somebody, primarily because ‘my friends expect this of me.' "
With an organization that he formed in Chicago called CeaseFire, Dr. Slutkin has been trying to intervene in potentially violent situations to ward off tragic outcomes. Individuals who are most likely to be involved in violence, either as offenders or victims, are personally engaged, talked with, counseled, cajoled - whatever it takes to prevent bloodshed. Those who intervene know the streets firsthand, and in many cases are former gang members and convicts themselves.
Dr. Slutkin's immediate goal is to stop the killing. Longer term, he wants to change the violent norms of big-city environments.
Funding for CeaseFire has been erratic, but its record has been impressive. The neighborhoods in which CeaseFire has deployed its cadre of "violence interrupters" and outreach workers have seen significant decreases in shootings and fatalities.
A study of CeaseFire's efforts in Chicago by the U.S. Department of Justice found substantial reductions in homicides, ranging from 41 percent to 73 percent, in nearly all of the neighborhoods in which CeaseFire was operating.
If we really cared about the youngsters in the inner cities, the murder of so many of them would be a huge national story. Civil rights groups would be marching relentlessly against the violence, and against the neglect of so many inner-city children, including the unconscionable levels of parental neglect. And programs found to be effective would be expanded and adequately funded.
We know where the focus should be. As Chicago's police superintendent, Jody Weis, told me, most of the homicides here occur in areas that comprise "less than 9 percent of the city's real estate." Yet CeaseFire, which has helped reduce the violence nearly everywhere it has been, is operating in only about a quarter of the areas of Chicago in which it is needed because of a lack of financing.
The absurdity of this jumps out at you when you think of the cost of adequately funding an operation like CeaseFire versus the financial cost to society of the endless violence. Typically, when one of these shootings occurs, the public pays for the medical care (sometimes for many years), for the police investigation, for the prosecutors and the defense lawyers, for the judges and other court personnel, and for the imprisonment of anyone who is convicted. In other words, the costs are monumental.
We need proper policing, better parenting, better schools and more jobs. But we also need an immediate campaign to upend the norm of murderous violence in big cities. CeaseFire is offering a blueprint that deserves much wider distribution.