Editor’s Note: The unrelenting violence happening in Black neighborhoods is a social justice issue and a public health crisis. This is not a normal state of affairs, and that it happens frequently will never make it a normal or acceptable condition.
In 2015, Dr. Kimber Bogard, then-Senior Officer for Planning and Advancement, and the Managing Officer of Culture of Health Program for the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), invited Sharon Toomer, BBN’s Publisher, to contribute her perspective on violence and trauma in Black communities for NAM’s Special Publication. Raquel Mack, M.S., PhD Candidate, joined the project to conduct essential research to back the urgent call for action.
In December 2017, ‘Urgent Dispatch’ was published in ‘Perspectives on Health Equity and Social Determinants of Health.’ (For research reference/citation see pages 212-214). ‘Urgent Dispatch’ is a compelling case for officially declaring trauma caused by violence in Black communities a public health epidemic, followed by decisive and coordinated action from multi-sector leadership.
It is essential that this perspective be available to you, BBN’s audience and partners. This is why it is front and center for BBN 3.0. We extend a special note of gratitude to Dr. Bogard for her leadership and for championing this perspective throughout NAM’s peer review process. She was a fierce advocate for inclusion of our nuanced perspective. Finally, a word on style, it is BBN’s editorial style/policy to capitalize “B” in “Black” and “W” in White when referring to human beings. For more about BBN 3.0 and our direction, please read Publisher’s Note.
BY SHARON TOOMER AND RAQUEL MACK
Before our eyes, in plain sight and in real time, the people of the United States and all of its governing bodies, academic corridors, medical institutions, public policy arena, faith-base community and economic engines are witnessing the great human atrocity and experiment: one group of citizenry is plagued with unceasing violence and the trauma that follows.
That is the real-life state of affairs for people in Black neighborhoods across the nation; and that there is no effective or targeted response to end the crisis is a commentary on the contemptible political, social and economic failure of this nation to allow these conditions to exist for any of its own citizenry.
This failure to target and respond to a public health crisis and human atrocity happening in the nation’s own backyard is a confounding and frustrating social and health injustice.
What does it take for leadership in all sectors to aggressively and wholly step up and step in these impacted neighborhoods? Where is the immediate and targeted response?
That is at the heart of this perspective.
Our intent is to amplify the voices of human beings who are suffering and overwhelmed with terrifying, life-changing and life-ending conditions in neighborhoods across this nation as a result of the unrelenting and prolonged violence they live with day in and day out.
Our aim is to message and appeal to the greater universe of expertise, leadership and purse-string holders to respond to the urgent cries of the women, men, girls and boys who are left to navigate and deal with the psychological aftermath of violent episodes.
How can human beings be expected to progress and excel or even exist under these conditions, when every aspect of their life —home, work and learning— is affected by one act of violence?
For context and out of respect for those most affected by violence, we include perspectives of people who speak from firsthand knowledge or who, in their own experience with violence, offer invaluable insight.
They are the voices on the ground that are too often ignored, rejected or altogether dismissed by experts and leaders who stand on greater platforms of influence.
The voices of the people most affected are vital to a comprehensive understanding of the conditions, what’s at stake and how to arrive at a solution.
But the overarching point of this perspective is to call attention to and present a case for why violence in Black neighborhoods is a public health crisis that requires immediate, decisive, targeted and swift action involving all sectors in a position to respond with expertise, leadership and resources.
And, this, too, must be noted: the conspicuous absence of visible leadership and targeted response to the longstanding and progressively worsening crisis of violence in Black neighborhoods is remarkable.
Juxtaposed to the intervention and response to the nation’s opiate and heroin addiction public health crisis, the absence of visible and targeted leadership is all the more glaring.
This dispatch is a call to action.
We use Black people to describe the human beings we focus on and we use neighborhood in place of community.
From our viewpoint, Black people authentically and broadly describes and includes the people we highlight. The alternatives —African American, people of color, minorities, people of African descent— do not resonate with us in style, in content or in this context.
In neighborhoods across the nation, Black people may be born in the United States and are generationally tied to this country, yet their ancestral and cultural linkage is to the West Indies, Caribbean, Africa or the Americas (north, central and south). Brooklyn, New York, is an example of a borough (town) where the diversity of Black people includes representation from across the world.
All in all, news reports don’t identify geographic lineage of Black people, and crime statistics don’t parse out ethnicity or cultural data when reporting violence in Black neighborhoods.
We want to recognize the diversity and nuance of cultures and we believe that is accomplished in the use of Black people versus the alternatives.
Also necessary in this perspective is the distinction between neighborhood and community.
These are neighborhoods: human and personal spaces, where Black people live and violence is happening.
Community is too broad a term that tends to detach the human element. This is an important language distinction because also missing in news coverage and crime statistics is the magnified shock wave of one act of violence on whole neighborhoods.
One violent episode takes with it the primary victim and then it consumes all of the human beings in that neighborhood that are connected —directly or indirectly— to the primary victim.
Much like any other neighborhood, where lifelong and multigenerational relationships are formed, in these neighborhoods human lives are intertwined and bonds are cemented.
Many of these violence-plagued neighborhoods are located in densely populated cities where people become lastingly and inextricably connected by way of shared home space in tenements or street blocks; schools; social activity; places of worship; base care and concern for one another; and, yes, hardship and tragedy.
It is a culture of one hand washes the other and it is an essential way of life.
Knowing other people’s business is not always about being a nosy neighbor. Rather, it is a form of cultural and social communing. That culture is core to how people in Black neighborhoods survive.
The human beings who make up these neighborhoods have dreams and aspirations and share in each other’s life milestones, hardships and upsets.
The people who contribute to and navigate these neighborhoods are no less human and deserving of their nation’s equal [to that of other citizenry] in measured intervention when crisis shows up, forms and lingers.
We believe the distinction in language matters and is vital.
FOCUS ON VIOLENCE IN BLACK NEIGHBORHOODS
Much thought and consideration was given to including Latinos in this paper.
It is well documented that Latinos in US neighborhoods are also dealing with an inordinate amount of violence resulting from street gang activity, domestic strife and the abuse of vulnerable immigrants.
The intent here is not to minimize violence in Latino neighborhoods, or any other group of humans for that matter. But rather than lump all groups into one issue we stand by our belief that all groups deserve a targeted approach and remedy.
For those reasons we focus on Black people in Black neighborhoods.
TOLL OF TRAUMA
Ten years ago, on a Sunday morning in a Brooklyn, NY apartment home, terror erupted when a 35-year-old man began shooting a firearm at family members inside the flat he shared with relatives. The night before, the man had celebrated his birthday and his liquor drinking had carried over to the next morning.
The family matriarch and another woman had asked the man to stop drinking in front of the children. The alcohol-fueled rampage, witnesses speculated, might have been intensified by his failure to take prescribed medication for a head injury he had suffered. He “flipped out,” said one witness.
Relatives and extended family members, including adults, teenagers and children, were also in the apartment.
What started as an ordinary festive gathering ended in an unimaginable outcome: the family matriarch, Mary Lee Clark, struck by several bullets, including one to the head while trying to shield her granddaughter, was placed on life support; several more children, adolescents and adults in the apartment either witnessed the chaotic scene or were injured by gunshot; and a preschool-age child, Tajmere Clark, was dead. Bullets that struck her grandmother had also entered her body.
(IMAGE: NY DAILY NEWS)
Tajmere was 3-years-old. In one episode of violence, Tajmere’s mother, Natasha Clark, was left childless and her mother remained comatose for years after. In that one act of violence, a family unit was forever changed and the tight-knit neighborhood lost treasured members representing two distinct generations.
Editor’s Note: The killing of Tajmere Clark and the story’s New York Post front page cover on May 8, 2006 was the act of violence in Black neighborhoods to become the tipping point for BBN publisher, Sharon Toomer. Since then, BBN and Toomer’s focus has been on the issue of violence in Black neighborhoods.
TRAUMA PASSED DOWN TO GENERATIONS
In 2015, Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and the director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, led a study showing the effects of trauma on generations.
The team studied Holocaust survivors and their children’s response to the trauma of the Holocaust.
“Holocaust survivors responded to a horrendous environmental event,” said Dr. Yehuda in a PBS interview. “In the second generation there is also a response to parental trauma [the Holocaust].”
Framing Dr. Yehuda’s medical research concept around the generational trauma experienced by Black people and neighborhoods supports the rationale for an immediate and targeted public health response to violence as essential to the well-being and progress of those affected human beings.
COMPLICATED GRIEF DISORDER
Severe and prolonged violence is the fixed condition for many Black neighborhoods. This is common knowledge. There is a pile of evidence in the criminal justice system and in news media reports pointing to this static condition.
In each and every episode of violence, without immediate and long-term care and treatment, it is hard to imagine how a family —much like 3-year-old Tajmere’s family— emotionally and psychologically recovers from a traumatic event such as the violent loss of a relative; or how a neighborhood goes about the business of progressing through life productively and successfully when it endures unrelenting violence and loss of friends and extended family.
And, equally hard to grasp is why they are essentially expected to recover on their own, without the vital health care intervention and support.
How is a child expected to focus on school course work, test taking, social development and overall learning while wrestling with a violent episode that they are not mentally equipped to deal with on their own?
How is a parent, relative or extended family member expected to go to work, spend a full 8-plus-hour day focused on workload and being a productive employee, while also dealing with the trauma of a violent act that took or changed the life of a loved one?
How are educators expected to not only teach course study, but also manage the unpredictable responses to violence visited on the students in their classroom?
What we know for certain is that violence causes trauma. Exposure to violent death causes psychological trauma and can result in complicated grief disorder.
Research: Complicated grief involves extreme immobilization, pronounced psychotic ideation and severe symptoms that persist over a long passage of time.
This can also cause a breakdown in psychological functioning. Being in a state of shock, experiencing denial, avoidance of loss reminders and dysfunctional or health-compromising behaviors are indicators of complicated grief.
Individuals who are exposed to homicidal and traumatic loss are at a greater risk for developing complicated grief. Black people experience homicide more frequently than the majority population and have elevated grief symptoms in comparison.
In July 2012, 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan was with his mother watching a charity basketball tournament at a playground in his Bronx apartment complex.
During warm-weather months, this is a time honored neighborhood gathering of friends, relatives, extended family and neighbors. At the event, a teenager with a gun opened fire and missed his intended target. A bullet struck and killed Lloyd.
This kind of violent scene has become a regular news story, but in this particular horror of violence, Lloyd’s mother, Shianne Norman, showed in front of news cameras the emotional and psychological toll of trauma resulting from violence.
It is a heartwrenching, unfiltered communiqué from an anguished mother, and in her anguishdriven words to her son’s killer, she gives the world a glimpse of the effects of violence:
You destroyed me; you changed my whole life in an instant, and I don’t know how I am supposed to go on. My son was four-years old. He just turned four this May that just passed. He was going to school in September. He hasn’t gotten to live his life yet. He hasn’t gotten to do anything. (Video) Shianne Norman, mother of 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines community violence as exposure to intentional acts of interpersonal violence committed in public areas by individuals who are not intimately related to the victim.
Violence is prevalent in the metropolitan areas of many large states. For example, as of 2015 metropolitan areas consistently had a greater number of violent crimes than suburban areas, according to the 2015 FBI Uniform Crime Report.
Research: There are multiple factors that are associated with a highest prevalence of metropolitan crime rates, including neighborhood disadvantage. Neighborhood disadvantages include high rates of poverty, joblessness and residential mobility.
GUNS AREN’T THE ONLY TOOLS OF VIOLENCE
Though gun violence dominates news reports, the legislative agenda, the criminal justice system and law enforcement narrative, elected representative outcry and even the medical community’s call for gun violence to be declared a public health crisis, firearms are not the singular method of violence in Black neighborhoods.
Undeniably, firearms are easily attainable and primary weapons of choice, but there is also sexual assault, use of other weapons in hand-to-hand fighting, and certainly the brutality and harassment committed by law enforcement on Black men, women and children.
There is no shortage of examples of community violence involving various methods of violence on Black people.
GLENN WRIGHT (LEFT) (IMAGE NY DAILY NEWS)
In New York City, Glenn Wright, a 21-year-old college student helping his grandmother with chores was stabbed to death on a sidewalk by a group of boys, in a case of mistaken identity.
In Chicago, Illinois, Derrion Albert, a 15-year-old high school student walking home from school, was beaten to death in front of many witnesses, including the person videotaping the killing.
In Phoenix, Arizona, an 8-year-old girl was lured to a shed and brutally raped by a group of boys ranging in ages from 9 to 14 years old.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, 12 teens kidnapped and held hostage a mother and her young son for hours, while they sodomized and raped her in one room and beat him in another room.
In Richmond, California, a young girl attending her high school prom was gang-raped in front of witnesses outside of the school gym, where the prom took place.
DERRION ALBERT 15-YEARS-OLD CHICAGO, IL
Living under a stagnant cloud of community violence is traumatizing, and the immediate and long-term impacts of community violence are recognizable.
Tony Herbert, a community advocate based in Brooklyn, NY, knows this too well.
Since 2003, Herbert has worked on the front lines of community violence by working extensively with victims and families, and publicly calling attention to the severe conditions people in Black neighborhoods are living under. He is the go-to community advocate when violence disrupts a family and neighborhood.
“Everybody is in survival mode,” said Herbert in conversation for this perspective. “These kids suffer from PTSD.” But, when there is a shooting, he said, there isn’t a team of counselors deployed to respond as when there is a mass shooting in a suburban school.
Herbert’s observation is supported by research that shows the grim mental health effects of exposure to community violence, particularly on children and adolescents.
Research: Exposure to violence within the home and school can cause the development of aggression, internalizing and externalizing symptoms in and adolescents. In addition, there are racial and ethnic disparities in access to mental health services.
There are differences in the availability of mental health professionals in rural and urban areas. These variations in geographic availability have been connected to the utilization of mental health services.
Black and Latino patients have a longer course of mental illness and a higher risk of disability from mental illness. Minorities are also more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental disorders.
For example, Black patients with an affective disorder are more likely than white patients to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. And, Latino patients are more likely than white patients to be diagnosed with affective disorders.
Herbert also described an alarming reality for many children between ages 11 and 18.
In his work with the nonprofit organization Youth Step USA, which uses the tradition of Black sorority and fraternity stepping to provide a safe environment for youth, Herbert asks students at events how many have lost a loved one to violence.
“Always three-fourths of the students raise their hand,” he said. “At some events, there can be as many as 600 students.”
PREDATOR OR PREY
In the early 1990s, at the age of 19, Alvin killed Mark, the neighborhood bully. Alvin, who asked that his last name be withheld for privacy concerns, comes from a stable, working family with decades-old roots in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Both of Alvin’s parents were present in the home, where he and his two siblings lived.
They were solid and engaged neighbors in the apartment development and deeply rooted in their church. Alvin, according to his mother, had started hanging out with the wrong crowd. It was a source of contention in their home. But, prior to killing Mark, he had not been in trouble with the law.
Mark was a couple of years older than Alvin and he, too, was rooted in the neighborhood. Mark, however, was infamously known to be especially brutal with violent force. His very presence instilled fear among his contemporaries and especially young boys and teens.
Rumors began circulating throughout the tight apartment development that Mark had it in for Alvin. Though it may seem inconceivable that a rumor, on its own, could lead to a deadly outcome, Alvin explained the visceral reaction to being Mark’s next target. He was overcome with the expectancy of terror.
“The fear factor is what caused me to kill him [Mark],” said Alvin in an interview for this perspective. “He was 6’4”, 240 pounds and everybody was afraid of him. He was like a wild, savage animal.”
Alvin was eventually prosecuted for manslaughter and sentenced to 7 to 12 years in an upstate New York maximum-security correctional facility. He served 12 years of the sentence before his parole. But, the gravity of what he had done affected him long after he killed Mark.
Alvin articulated the process of understanding what it means to take the life of another human being. He was burdened. On his own, without counseling or therapy, Alvin exorcised what he had done. In that process he had come to learn more about Mark’s tumultuous upbringing and life trajectory.
Since the age of seven, Mark had been in and out of juvenile correctional facilities and lived a life weighed by familial instability, turmoil and violence. Likewise, but in a different way, a violent episode also consumes the people attached to the aggressor.
Tony Herbert, who has witnessed the domino effect of acts of violence, explained how families of the aggressor become entangled and affected. “Families become victims, too.
The embarrassment and being ostracized by the community you live in because your son is a killer. You didn’t raise him right [sic].”
Herbert’s point was underscored in a conversation with Alvin’s mother Lorraine.
She was 37-years-old at the time and the violent episode took its toll on her and her family. She described the shock of the act itself and the fallout, which lasted throughout her son’s criminal trial and into his 12-year prison sentence. For the same reason as her son -privacy- Lorraine asked that her last name be withheld.
“It was traumatizing. The helplessness, guilt behind what I did wrong as a mother. I felt so bad that my son took a life.”
Lorraine recalled Mark’s name and thought about his family, his mother and how living in her beloved neighborhood weighed on her. “I was depressed and full of shame and embarrassment.”
Out of fear, Lorraine and her husband made the difficult decision to break up the family unit and send their younger son to live down south with family. Their decision was a preemptive measure to prevent the path Alvin had taken. That one violent act spiraled and rippled to impact every life it touched.
Alvin, in his own reflection, came to understand that Mark was a product of the environment he grew up in.
“If you take a small child and expose them to constant violence, they will be violent. Either they will become predator or prey,” he said.
This is how life plays out for Black people in violence-plagued neighborhoods across the nation. This is their normal, even when that normal would not be accepted in any other neighborhood.
Alvin and Mark’s path of violence is supported by research describing outcomes of proactive and reactive aggression.
Research: Exposure to violence has a direct influence on the development of aggression in youth and adolescents. There are two types of aggressive acts: reactive and proactive.
Reactive aggression can be defined as angry and impulsive outbursts in response to a stressor, and include being violent to others when one feels fear or threat. Reactive aggression is linked to negative affect and is associated with increased levels of sadness, unhappiness, depression and suicidal behavior, while proactive aggression is unprovoked, goal oriented and predatory. Aggression is associated with behavior that responds to fear or threat of violence. Examples include bullying and premeditated assault, and is associated with severe forms of antisocial behavior and psychopathic traits.
The etiology –or cause– of aggression is extremely important because aggression is one of the best predictors for future social, psychological, behavioral and academic problems. Violence has an effect on the development of children whether it is witnessed or experienced. Research indicates that adolescents that have witnessed violence often exhibit fear and concern about being harmed and losing others.
In addition, community violence has a strong impact on the mental health outcomes of children and adolescents.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A meta-analysis revealed that community violence has the strongest impact on posttraumatic stress disorder and externalizing behaviors, such as deviance and aggression, in adolescents; and children exhibited greater internalizing symptoms, such as depressed mood and difficulty coping with stressors.
These are the catastrophic and traumatizing conditions that people in Black neighborhoods across the nation are living under. There is no shortage and, in fact, there is an abundance of evidence highlighting these conditions and the emotional and psychological consequences.
CAUSE-EFFECT: VIOLENCE IN BLACK NEIGHBORHOODS
Over the course of more than a decade of working in the trenches of community violence, Tony Herbert, without hesitation, identifies economic oppression, existing in a constant state of survival mode, depression and PTSD as the root causes of violence. “Violence is a symptom of those conditions.”
Herbert’s summarization is supported, in part, by statistics highlighted in a University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute study. Results from this study show that 47 percent of 20- to 24-year-old Black men in Chicago were unemployed in 2014, and not in school.
Historically, and in broader context, the nation’s economic, social and political injustices on Black communities, which are compounded by marginalization and institutional and systemic racism, are contributing factors to the crisis of violence and ensuing trauma.
Research: The effects on adolescents of exposure to violence in different environments.
Violence occurs in many different environments, including home, school and the community, and researchers studied the effects on adolescents of exposure to violence in different environments. They investigated the difference between the development of internalizing symptoms such as depression and anxiety; and externalizing symptoms such as aggression and delinquency.
The results revealed that higher levels of violence exposure at home and school were associated with increased aggressive fantasies.
Higher levels of violence at home positively predicted delinquency and overt aggression. Higher levels of violence exposure at school and home predicted more internalizing symptoms.
Risk factors for developing internalizing symptoms included race/ethnicity, gender and contributing family factors. For example, females reported higher anxiety.
African American ethnicity was associated with higher anxiety and depression, and parental use of inconsistent discipline predicted depressive symptoms. Higher levels of anxiety and depression were also related to lower family income, greater parental use of harsh discipline strategies, higher levels of friends’ delinquent behaviors and lower school connectedness. This study revealed that the environment in which violence is experienced can have a large effect on the trajectory of symptoms.
HISTORY OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL BARRIERS
In September 2015, US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) addressed an audience at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
In an impassioned and precision-crafted address, Senator Warren pinpointed a history of economic, social and political barriers, and excessive hardships that have done extraordinary and unparalleled damage to the Black community as a whole.
To this day, the conditions highlighted by Senator Warren continue, and until there is the political and societal will to comprehensively analyze, examine, address and, more urgently, remedy the factors leading to the present-day conditions, violence will continue to plague Black neighborhoods across the nation.
In the meantime, while the great examination of how is left on the shelf, there is the urgency to address the trauma that stems from violence in Black neighborhoods.
“THE URGENCY OF NOW” – BOLD, AMBITIOUS LEADERSHIP IS REQUIRED
In public and private spaces, Black people have shared a common belief that this sustained condition of violence would not reach the fever-pitch level in any other community or group in the United States without intervention and response.
This belief is expressed in private homes, in barber and beauty shops, in places of worship and even on social media. These are safe places where Black people have traditionally communed and engaged in discussions that acutely affect them individually and collectively.
The especially chilling rate and frequency of violence happening in Black neighborhoods, and the unaddressed trauma that follows, is discriminate.
Research: The environments that individuals are forced to live in are moderating factors to interpersonal violence. Neighborhoods with higher levels of social disorder increase women’s exposure to community violence. Social disorder can be defined as “an array of threatening acts that occur between strangers within a particular neighborhood that can lower the quality of life.” These threatening acts can include violence, public intoxication and drug sales. Community violence is associated with increased rates of interpersonal violence
As it should be:
War veterans receive targeted care and treatment for PTSD.
Domestic violence survivors are provided access to a network of resources to assist them, and there is an ongoing public policy campaign.
In instances of mass school shootings, mental health counselors are deployed to support grieving and fear-ridden students.
As a responsive measure to violence against women, then-Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), in the 1990s, championed the Violence Against Women Act, and in his role as vice president, VAWA was strengthened and updated in 2014.
In October 2015, as a response to the rise in white suburban and rural teenagers’ addiction to prescription drugs and the illegal narcotic drug heroin, President Obama announced the White House initiative to coordinate efforts between federal, state, and local governments and the public and private sectors to address the public health and public safety crisis.
Following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the president, US Congress, and state and city leaders across the nation moved into action. President Obama even created a White House committee of top cabinet members, and assigned Vice President Biden to lead the group.
In the border state of New York, Gov Andrew Cuomo, in less than 30 days after Sandy Hook, signed into law The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, which is acclaimed as the toughest gun legislation in the nation.
In January 2016, President Obama moved boldly forward with executive action on gun control, yet the action is framed in response to and in the context of “mass shootings.”
Black neighborhoods aren’t dealing with mass shootings in schools, movie theatres and shopping malls. It is White men and boys committing mass acts of domestic violence and terrorism.
Black neighborhoods are dealing with individual-neighborhood acts of violence and the trauma that follows.
President Obama, in his remarks to the public announcing his Gun Control Executive Order, referred to Dr. Martin Luther King’s call for the “fierce urgency of now.”
Where is the fierce urgency of now in officially declaring violence in Black neighborhoods a public health crisis and forging ahead aggressively with a targeted, multi-disciplined and significantly resourced course of action?
BLUEPRINT FOR REMEDY
So far, law enforcement, the criminal justice system and more punitive measures through gun law legislation have been the drivers of proposed -and acted on- solution. But, those systems and measures have not curbed the violence and they don’t address the emotional and mental health needs of traumatized people in Black neighborhoods.
“You can’t arrest yourself out of the problem,” said Tony Herbert. “Proper therapeutic programming is needed.”
It is perplexing, given all there is to know about the crisis caused by extreme and prolonged violence in Black neighborhoods, that there has not been urgent leadership to step up and mobilize responsive action targeting the critical health care needs of traumatized victims and survivors in Black neighborhoods.
A mobilized and concentrated action is needed, much like the coordinated effort to address the crisis involving suburban and rural teens, and the addiction to heroin and opioid prescription drugs crisis.
The essential and immediate need is a declared public health crisis followed by targeted, multifaceted and resourced action.
What does that look like?
For starters: visible, coordinated and decisive leadership from all sectors -public and private- and at the federal, state and local government levels.
A targeted strategy that homes in on Black neighborhoods; and the unapologetic political will to boldly and publicly call this what it is: a public health crisis and social justice inequity.
JUDGEMENT ON INACTION WILL BE HARSH
In a nation of extraordinary abilities, intellectual minds, innovation and abundance of resources, the United States and its leadership in the political, governing, corporate, business, academic, medical, policy, faith-base and philanthropic spheres could one day be judged harshly on their failure to aggressively target and address the causes and traumatic outcomes of prolonged and sustained violence in Black neighborhoods.
This is not a solution founded in idealism, nor is it the imagination of a utopian society. This is the rational and logical expectation of what leadership is required to do in a crisis.
Nor is this a public health crisis for Black people and neighborhoods without resources to solely own and figure out.
Economically, socially, politically and culturally, Black people and neighborhoods are as much a part of the United States as any other group of human beings or special interests.
They contribute to the economy and are a tax base; serve in the military and send sons, daughters, husbands and wives to serve and fight in wars; show up loyally to a political party; and they produce and deepen the cultural fabric of this nation. Yet, Black men, women, and children in violence-plagued neighborhoods across this nation are expected to live, survive and progress under the most traumatizing conditions, unlike any other group in the U.S.
Violence in Black neighborhoods and the subsequent trauma visited on human beings is a U.S. public health crisis.
History will look at this public health crisis and social justice inequity in the way it does the ghoulish Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, and the alarmingly known sequence of events that led up to The Holocaust and The Rwandan Genocide human atrocities.
In that history telling, leadership in all sectors and those in positions of authority to address this real-time atrocity, happening in plain sight, will also be judged for their lack of will and courage to do the right and just thing in crisis for a segment of its own citizenry and, by inextricable linkage, its own greater society.
This urgent dispatch from the ground is a call for leadership in all sectors to wholly step up and in to do what is required to address the traumatizing conditions on Black people and neighborhoods.
Sharon Toomer is the founder and publisher of BlackandBrownNews.com (BBN). She is an organizational and entrepreneurial leader whose career covers executive leadership in the nonprofit sector, and extensive experience in public affairs and policy, communications and journalism. Her broad professional and multicultural worldview and experience has earned her awards in journalism excellence. Sharon is based in the Washington, D.C. area. @sdtoomer or LinkedIn
Raquel Mack, M.S. is a graduate student at the Department of Medical & Clinical Psychology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. IG Quelsraqqy
This perspective by Sharon Toomer and Raquel Mack was published in ‘Perspectives on Health Equity & Social Determinants of Health,’ A National Academy of Medicine Special Publication (December 2017).