Violence is Preventable

Originally posted on medium.com  

The incident that happened in Roseburg yesterday at Umpqua Community College is a tragedy. It’s sickening, it’s terrifying and it’s inexcusable. The loss and the fear experienced by the victim’s family and that community will be felt for the rest of their lives. When I heard about it, I was actually walking across my University Campus. As an almost graduate, currently searching for a job as a University Professor, I’m faced with the reality that a large chunk of my life will be spent on a University campus, which now seems to be a dangerous place to spend your time. I asked myself “should I be scared?” I am, and this made me angry. I was not angry because now I will have to live in a constant state of alert in order to feel safe. I am angry because now my life is equal to so many children, youth, and adults in this country that live in fear of falling victim to gun violence everyday. It makes me angry that children in the city that I live in, Los Angeles, go to school everyday with the reality that their peers might shoot them. This is not a fear. This is reality. And when they leave school and return to their homes, this is still a reality. And when they grow up, and they have their own children, not only do they still have this fear, they now have the additional fear that their children will get shot while they are at school or in their neighborhood.

American youth living in underprivileged neighborhoods, and disproportionately youth of color, are exposed to gun violence at rates far too high at ages far too young. I know this because I asked them. I sat down with twenty youth and I asked them “When was the first time you saw a gun?” One person responded “At six years old, when I was given one.” I asked, “Was there ever any gun violence in your school?” Many shrugged and said, “All the time.” They told me stories of hearing gunshots in their neighborhood. Hearing their best friend getting shot while they were hanging out a block away. Witnessing their brother fall and die as they both ran down an alley to escape the violence. They showed me their bullet wounds. I listened and nodded my head and looked them in the eye as they told me these stories with a flat affect. Many reported these stories with the tone, cadence and emotion that I would use to tell my friend about my drive home from work in traffic yesterday. They were disillusioned. As they told me I externally matched their affect as I quickly broke down inside. When I got home, I actually broke down. I called my mentor and cried, “It’s not fair.” Their trauma is my trauma now.

Gun violence is not fair and it is an issue of public health.

It affects us all, some more than others, and it impacts us throughout the life course in a myriad of ways. However, I believe that gun violence is preventable. There is a cure for this disease, because it is an infectious disease. There are many that are waging the war against this disease, but we will need the community effort to truly win. As I prepare for the American National Public Health Association Annual Meeting at the end of the month in Chicago, I am putting together a panel of experts and community members that are addressing violence at all levels. The work being done in Chicago– a city where homicide is the number one cause of death for young minority males– is innovative and inspirational. It comforts me to know there are answers. However, addressing gun violence and its effects must be a priority for America. I will continue to do my part. Acknowledging these realities is the first most important step.

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