April 25th, 2008
12:00 PM ET

Contagious violence and the 'walking wounded'

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/25/book.292.320.bloom.jpg caption="Sandra L. L. Bloom, co-author of 'Bearing Witness: Violence and Collective Responsibility' shares her thoughts on young people and violence." width=292 height=320]

Sandra Bloom, MD
Linda Rich, MA
Theodore J. Corbin, MD
John A Rich, MD, MPH
The Center for nonviolence and Social Justice
Drexel University School of Public Health

With the number of killings reported in the news, it can be easy to lose sight of all the young people in the inner city who make up the "walking wounded.” Violence is contagious. Community violence affects everyone in the community – and that means all of us. Many young people in the inner city have been victims of nonfatal violence – shot, stabbed or assaulted. Many others have witnessed violence against their friends or family, endured graphic, daily news reports about neighborhood violence or been treated as perpetrators, even when they are not.

Sometimes the trauma that these young people go through leaves them feeling raw and unsafe and even threatened by their own peers. We now know a great deal about the science of trauma. Over the past 20 years the scientific community has accumulated a vast store of knowledge about how the brain and the body are negatively affected by repetitive violence. In many ways, urban youth become like the traumatized veterans who return from Afghanistan and Iraq whose bodies and minds are stressed to the point where they cannot distinguish between real and imagined threat.

Not long ago, we met a young man employed as the driver of a pastry delivery truck who was shot in the chest during a robbery. Emergency physicians and trauma surgeons in the hospital heroically treated his physical wounds but they neither detected nor addressed his deeper psychological trauma. The trauma left him anxious and unable to work, unable to leave his house and unable to feel safe. He had no health insurance and so he couldn't seek out any counseling or health care.

The bottom line is this: the solution to violence goes far beyond what the police can do. Violence represents a true public health emergency. In such an emergency, it is imperative that we include not only the entire public health, mental health and health care sectors. A public health emergency is an emergency for everyone. Most young people who have been affected by violence and trauma need caring adults who understand the effects of trauma and are able to help these young people heal. Once we help young people in these communities heal their inner wounds, they will become our strongest allies in creating safer and healthier communities.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Tim


    I understand where you come from but the criminal mind may not work as you think, most of the guns they have were not purchased legally and most of the crimes are not long, drawn out verbal confrontations. Rather they are quick, violent and over before you or anyone could call the police, why do shootings at schools end up so bad, gun free zones means you have a good 20-40 minutes before you'll be stopped

    February 19, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  2. Gary Hamilton

    Why isn't Al Sharpton helping stop the violence instead of promoting it?? Someone needs to stop him.

    April 26, 2008 at 10:23 am |
  3. Christian

    John, banning firearms would mean that thieves and other petty criminals and even the police won't shoot immediatly when something unplanned happens as they don't have to fear that a civilian pulls out a submachine gun.

    April 26, 2008 at 6:53 am |
  4. EJ - Ohio

    "Would you extend such coverage to, say, uninsured women who have been raped?"

    Mike in NYC. I don't get what you were trying to say.

    Why wouldn't the answer be 'yes.'

    I don't get the inference or sarcasm.

    April 25, 2008 at 11:24 pm |
  5. John

    Banning firearms won't fix anything. If anything, it will make things worse.

    April 25, 2008 at 4:21 pm |
  6. Jacquelyn Harrison

    I agree that violence is a public health emergency.

    Violence is also a significant and integral part of our collective thought and culture. We celebrate violence, we are entertained by it, we even use the language of violence as part of our courtship rituals and other social interactions, our commercial activities, our civic affairs, and our public policy,.

    Although we profess to fear and deplore violence, we accept violence as inevitable and use a wide array of convoluted rationalizations in our refusal to collectively accept responsibility for it.

    We usually look for ways to operate the levers of violence in our favor, and only occasionally test other ways to resolve conflict. As long as we consider violence effective and gratifying, we need not be bothered with thinking about why we do not mind the cost.

    April 25, 2008 at 4:07 pm |
  7. Stan, Houston, TX

    The problem is WAY TOO MUCH FREEDOM in our spoiled, liberal country. We are all so fanatical and obsessed with our so-called "freedoms," that we can't see all the problems and violence they create. We need more police to *smack down* stupid, self-absorbed "it's all about me" Americans who think that laws are for other people. I live in California and the disrespect and disregard for traffic laws is FRIGHTENING!! The roadways out here are *DANE-JURE-USSSS*!!! We need to STOP ALL TV VIOLENCE and movies also. Smack down the whiners and complainers who will surely object to their "freedom of expression" being infringed upon/violated! No more *liberal parenting*–spank, spank, spank those unruly, ADD-prone little trophy kids-brats-punks!! Smack 'em down! Back to the good old "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child"!!! RE-INTRODUCE THE WORD *NO* into the national vocabulary for all! BAN ALL GUNS AND RIFLES, period! Only law enforcement and military will have firearms of any kind. Smack down the NRA when they protest and whine and cry outrage! And, NO MORE PC (political correctness)!! Tell it like it is! More jails and prisons for the criminals. "Lock 'em down!"

    If I think of anything else/more, I will re-post. Did I miss anything?!?

    April 25, 2008 at 3:30 pm |
  8. Mike in NYC

    The commentary above, as stated in the first paragraph, is about the inner city, populated primarily by blacks and Hispanics.

    Strange, then, that the only person holding a weapon on the cover of the book is a young white man.

    "Violence represents a true public health emergency."

    This makes it sound like an epidemic of disease, descending on people from without, with no moral dimension or personal choice involved.

    Victoria wrote:

    "If a person does not have insurance then there needs to be care made available through the communities, free of charge."

    Would you extend such coverage to, say, uninsured women who have been raped?

    April 25, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  9. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    For anyone who is a victim of a crime, they should check with their local police to see if there are any community based victim assistance programs. They can also contact the National Crime Victim Information and Referral Hotline to get asistance in dealing with their trauma.

    April 25, 2008 at 2:38 pm |
  10. Victoria

    This need for psychological trauma healing shold be addressed within the insurance industry. If a person does not have insurance then there needs to be care made available through the communities, free of charge.

    April 25, 2008 at 12:37 pm |
  11. John

    We, you and me, society are a collective, have absolutely got to stop glamorizing violence – be it TV and movies, video games, etc.

    I know there are a lot of folks who dismiss the notion that violence on TV, in movies, and in video games begets violence in real life. I have one message for them... WAKE UP! Go onto chat rooms and blogs and you will see that people, kids and adults, believe an incredible amount of what they see on TV, in movies, in video games, and on the 'Net. I visit a couple dozen websites and deal with young people every day at work, and I assure you, what I see is absolutely scary and appalling.

    April 25, 2008 at 12:31 pm |

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