Dr. Gary Slutkin: Can Violence Be Cured

While driving between appointments and meetings today I was once again caught up in another NPR story. I had seen rumblings about this TED talk a few months ago but it didn’t catch my attention like it did today. In this talk Dr Slutkin shares a bit about the background and science behind a violence mitigation program that is cropping up around the United States.

Through his experience as an epidemiologist Slutkin noticed that violence has all of the markers of a medical epidemic. He noted that statistically one of the major risk factors for perpetrating violence is to be the victim of violence first. Violence begets violence. If violence is responding like a disease then doesn’t it stand to reason that it can be treated or “medicated” like it is a disease as well?

The medication is a three step violence intervention regimen. First step: interrupt the transmission of violence. Workers find the first cases of violence before they escalate and diffuse the situation. The second step is to prevent future spread of violence by being a proactive influence in the neighborhood. The last phase is to change the group norms. Violence is not the expected currency, it is the rare exception.

This type of violence interruption has led to a 30-60 percent drop in violent shootings in the neighborhoods that they have begun this endeavor. The science shows that this works. The science also shows that the crime and punishment system that our western governments employ aren’t working.

Pieces to contemplate:

Mass shootings have taken on an epidemic quality. They have become more and more frequent and unfortunately seem as though they are our new cultural norm. What interruption is possible or necessary to eradicate this cultural phenomenon?

We are all a part of communities and systems. Do we recognize when violence, whether emotional or physical, is infecting us? Are we bold enough to be interrupters?

I recently heard a saying out of Sierra Leone. “There is no bad bush to throw out a bad baby.” The essential meaning of this phrase is that every person is important to the social fabric of the community. Even the “bad people” are necessary for the community to experience wholeness.

Deep down (okay not that deep) I want there to be bad people. Bad people who have to pay for their badness. But the anger and resentment necessary to fuel this system grow in me like a cancer. Returning violence with government sanctioned violence just isn’t working.

I’m feeling a post about the body of Christ and squandering forgiveness coming on. Stay tuned for more.



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