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Rethinking Strategy to Reduce Gun Violence

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, PhD

The Truth Contributor

 If you look at the number of people who have died or been injured from gun violence, that dwarfs the number of people who have been affected by Zika Virus or Ebola. There's absolutely no comparison.      

                    - Vivek Murthy



Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, a flurry of homicides related to gun violence has taken place both in Toledo and across the nation. Spurred by this recent gun violence epidemic, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and Chief of Staff Katy Crosby have crafted a response.

More than 30,000 people die annually as a result of gun violence, according to 2017 statistics. That number exceeds or is about the same as die in car crashes, liver disease, and other leading causes of death. The City of Toledo has, therefore, developed a strategy to address the gun violence crisis as a public health issue.

I spoke with The City of Toledoís Katy Crosby, coordinator of the new initiative, to discuss her new vision for reducing local gun violence.

Perryman: What is the significance of looking at gun violence through the lens of public health?

Crosby:  The main component of looking at it as a public health crisis is really about changing the community norms around gun violence.  In communities where we have the highest risk for gun violence there is some normalization there that is significantly impacted by the relationship between the community and police. So, you donít necessarily report the violence because you donít know what the result will be when a police officer comes into the community. That can be challenging to addressing issues related to gun violence for our folks.  So, we need to change community norms and work with community members to make sure that they are aware of what they can use to keep their community safe. 

The other piece is providing social services, and trauma-informed care for those individuals and families that are high risk. We want to ensure that if they have exposure weíre looking at resources and strategies to address it. So, suppose you think about the communities that are at higher risk; In that case, those are also the communities that need the most investment and so looking at how we can be more strategic about providing resources in those communities.

Perryman: When I think of public health, two responses come to mind: treatment and prevention. Can you talk about gun violence as a public health crisis in Toledo within those two categories?

Crosby: The public health model is really about gathering the data, looking at the epidemiology of gun violence, the patterns, and the demographic information, and then narrowly tailoring our focus and strategy around addressing those risks and protective factors for intervention. 

If you think about any health issue, you have symptoms, and so you go through a series of tests, document the symptoms, and then try to figure out what is driving the symptoms. Gun violence is a symptom, but the root cause is lack of investment.  If you want to eliminate the symptom of gun violence, we have to address those root causes, which are the resources that Iím talking about around infrastructure, investment, trauma informed care, access to high opportunity communities, and all of those things. Once we put those interventions in place, we can evaluate whether they are making a difference in reducing violence. 

Perryman: What about prevention?

Crosby: From a preventative standpoint, it goes back to the discussion we were having around our violence interrupters, being a part of the response to potential retaliation, or the uptick in violence. Suppose you are not comfortable calling the police officers; In that case, we have respected folks in our communities that are helping to intervene.

Also, a part of it is teaching good conflict resolution skills. How do we help people work through challenges when thereís tension and teaching how to deescalate conflict?  We are also looking at hospital intervention programs. You can often intervene on retaliatory actions in the waiting room if you have violence interrupters that can come in and reach family members and associates before they actually go out and retaliate and try to diffuse the violence.  Those are other preventative measures that you can do to deter gun violence in addition to addressing those root cause issues. 

Perryman: You talked the other day on our biweekly community call with the mayor about a program called the Cure Violence Program.  Weíve tried several other initiatives in this community, such as T-CIRV.  Others have been applied nationally or in other cities such as Operation Ceasefire and RECAP (Rebuilding Every Community Around Peace).  What makes you think that the Cure Violence Program will work when all of these others havenít seemed to make a difference?

Crosby:  I was a part of the CIRV Program in Dayton, and I think there was a point in time where it worked, and then it stopped working. From my experience, if you think about the violence that weíre experiencing right now and where it started off, now it has morphed into different forms of violence. So, you have to make adjustments to respond. I think that gun violence is the same way; Therefore we need to look at what worked in the past, what has changed since that time, and then make adjustments. 

What also happens whenever youíre dealing with social issues is that we pilot things in a controlled environment. When you scale it up, thereís all of these factors that you canít control.  

So, weíll have some immediate successes and then have to make shifts because the numbers might pick back up. We have just to stay the course of addressing gun violence.  I donít want anybody to think that this is the be-all, end-all, or cure-all. It is an intervention strategy that can help reduce gun violence in the situation that weíre currently dealing with. 

Perryman: Letís talk about partners. Itís apparent that the healthcare industry would be involved since weíre dealing with EMTís, emergency room staff, nurses, doctors trying to save and repair lives.  Is the Mental Health Board on the team since suicides are also a big part of gun violence?

Crosby:  Absolutely. When youíre talking about urban gun violence, actually mental health is not one of the top issues related to urban gun violence. It is when you think about domestic violence and suicides, but urban gun violence not so much.   

The other part of the mental health piece is the trauma that comes along with living in a community that is high risk for gun violence or having a family member that was exposed to it, and even just having it in the back of your mind that something could potentially happen. All of that creates posttraumatic stress and trauma that needs to be addressed.

Perryman: Letís talk about the role of law enforcement.

Crosby:  From my perspective, law enforcement is an integral part of this.  When violence occurs, they address the issue from an arresting perspective, getting people to the hospital when necessary, those types of things.  From a preventative standpoint, however, itís looking at how we can deter violence before it starts and how we can look at our infrastructure to ensure that it is maintained in a way that deters violence.

Perryman: Will mistrust of the police somehow dampen the effectiveness of the interventions?

Crosby: We need to make sure, first of all, that people understand that violence interrupters are not an extension of the police department. Their role is to help deter violence when there is conflict, intervene and stop the violence before law enforcement has to get engaged.

 So thatís the first thing, is that when you hear the defund the police movement, when you hear the conversations about people policing our own communities, thatís part of it. Those violence interrupters or other influencers will not be able to address all issues, so there will be moments when the police have to engage.

Perryman: What are the expected outcomes?

Crosby:  I just want to stress that this is a very, very challenging issue.  Itís not something thatís going to be changed overnight. Itís going to take a lot of time, energy, and effort from community partners. 

I would just ask for patience, which is a hard thing to ask when dealing with violence, and then also open-mindedness about engaging in the process and being a part of the solution.

Perryman: How would you expect the faith-based and nonprofits and other community organizations to participate?

Crosby: Our nonprofit agencies provide social services.  If you think about the first one that always comes to mind for me is Brothers United and the relationship they have with fathers in the community who can be potential role models or who might be high risk themselves and their relationship and how they can help redirect folks.  I think about the faith-based community who families may lean on for emotional support, if theyíre exposed to violence or there may be a child that grew up in the church thatís high risk. Family members might be able to lean on their faith-based community and redirect that individual. 

It takes a village to raise a child. There are a ton of ways that we can be creative about addressing these issues. We just have to work together and be diligent and stick with it. 

Perryman: Will the funds for the initiative come from redirecting some of the police budget or CDBG? 

Crosby:  Weíve reprioritized some of our CDBG dollars to deal with housing issues, lead abatement, workforce development issues, and things like that, so thatíll be a part of the strategy.  Also, our LED lighting and using our crime data is prioritized. Weíre also having conversations with our private sector partners about addressing the root causes of poverty.  As we think through how we invest resources in our community, I would see some of that funding from those efforts. 

We already have the hospitals, ProMedica and Mercy, that have efforts around the social determinants of health. Weíre all working together towards a common outcome to address these issues.  Weíre all looking at the same communities. The most important thing is how we are  talking to each other about and working towards common outcomes? Iíve been working hard on discovering ways to have better collaboration and joint outcomes around addressing both social determinants of health and the root causes of poverty.

Perryman: Thank you. I appreciate your time.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org


Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09/17/20 09:49:40 -0400.



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