Youth Violence

It's a Public Health Issue

In 2005, there were 340 victims of shootings in Boston— the highest number since 1996. Sadly, it has been said by some youth that "It’s better to be caught by the police with a gun than to be caught on the street without one."

Have we become immune to these kinds of statistics and this kind of thinking? Is it time to resurrect the "Where’s the Outrage?" campaign that was so successful in anti-smoking efforts? It was the dangers of second-hand smoke that finally put teeth into the antismoking campaign—when the population at large realized the harm to them, smoking became a preeminent public health issue.

Violence has its secondary victims, too: children who are not engaged in it but who suffer post-traumatic stress from witnessing a shooting, who are confined to home because the local park is not safe, and who struggle to achieve when society assumes they are part of the problem because of their race, or where they live.

Our current system of focusing our energies on punishment is not working; tougher penalties are all well and good, and satisfy the desire to "see something done," but it is also shutting the barn door after the horse has left. Youth violence has its roots in far more systemic societal problems: abuse, homelessness, unemployment and poverty among them.

In our work at The Home for Little Wanderers we see the potential for violence in the very young children who come to us, and the sometimes irreparable consequences of a life lived without hope in the older ones. This is a complex problem that requires a complex solution, one that integrates efforts by law enforcement, government, community and faith-based groups, and schools. Like second-hand smoke, violence affects the innocent. It must be treated as a public health issue with inherent dangers to everyone. Until all this is addressed in a coordinated way, we will continue to fail at the prevention level.

The Home has already introduced a more inclusive, community focused approach to its treatment programs and we will expand on that and other responses to this issue in future commentary.

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