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Violence is a disease

Violence is a public health disease. And Detroit is infected.

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention.

Professionals consider many elements that make for healthy or unhealthy communities. Personal choice and the environment are two of those elements, factors that lead to the violence threatening too many of our citizens, especially the young.

In Detroit there is an environment of extreme poverty, fear and anger, all fueled by the indifference of city and state officials to the plight of people living in the neighborhoods.

Young people in this city are leaving schools that are marked by state-imposed chaos, lack of resources and the absence of art, music, Black history and African culture. That cultural vacuum created by the current state of inferior schools and mis-education has literally unhinged our youth from their past, from meaningful culture and from community.

The ready access to guns provides quick and fatal recourse for the simmering anger over no jobs, no opportunities, no future.

Police alone cannot solve the problem. They arrive after the trigger has been pulled.

Education is a necessity in fighting violence. It is a key tool that public health professionals use to overcome problems, to prevent problems from happening or re-occurring. Schools, churches, public institutions and people of good will all have an obligation to join or create education programs to counter the thug culture that prevails.

A healthy community requires a community effort. It is time for Detroit churches, institutions, schools and public officials to devise programs that focus on the growing violence here. Rev. David Bullock’s Crusade for America is one such program. It is off to a healthy start, an effort that needs our support and participation.

Another example is the community effort underway in Chicago to stem the hundreds of murders there. CeaseFire is a public health model administered by the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention at the University of Illinois’ School of Public Health. As a public health model, CeaseFire defines violence as a disease, and examines how, when and by whom it is spread and how it can be stopped. The nonprofit program attempts to interrupt the cycle of violence, especially gun violence, and to change norms about behavior.

The program uses two teams of people to prevent violence. The first group consists of outreach workers who collaborate with the local clergy to oppose violence. The second group is a less conventional one, called “violence interrupters,” who operate at night. They are mainly former gang members and graduates of the CeaseFire program. These people search out crime and use a tough, realistic approach to enforcing the law — in their own way. If they come across a man intent on shooting someone, for instance, they will try to physically separate the two parties, even if it means using force, then mediate a solution that is satisfactory to both.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s study of CeaseFire in 2008, it is a success. Five out of the seven areas where the CeaseFire program operates in Chicago reported a sharp decrease in gun violence. Shootings and killings dropped 40 percent in crime hot spots. Retaliatory murders dropped 100 percent.

Baltimore, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and New York may all soon see the launch of CeaseFire programs.

Detroit cannot depend on police to make us healthy. We all must expand and grow the efforts at education and community outreach to create community, ease the fears, strengthen the bonds and offer alternatives. One easy place to start: join Rev. Bullock’s Crusade. Visit Rainbow Push Facebook page or for more information.

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