[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.
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