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GMercyU hosted the first event of this year’s Campus Conversations Series, “Gun Violence and Public Health: The Deleterious Effects on our Population” on Thursday, September 30, 2021. The event was sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences.
“Why is the conversation about gun violence and public health so important?” McGrain posed to the panelists.
“Gun violence is a national issue,” said Keesha Eure, LCSW. “There’s been an uptick in the age of Covid, but in my opinion, we’ve always handled gun violence and violence as a public safety and law enforcement issue, versus looking at it from a public health lens and the underlying conditions of what causes violence... we need public health and public safety married together to address the issue.”
Violence stems from power (or lack thereof), poverty, mental health issues, and quality of life issues. In the cycle of violence, victims sometimes become the perpetrators and vice versa – and we are failing to address the root causes and underlying conditions of gun violence, Eure explained.
Professor Nasza Baker, PhD, MA, noted the historical design of cities and history of America in relation to gun violence.
“If we look at Newark, New Orleans, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, historically, these are cities that have been disinvested, they’ve suffered from de-industrialization, they’ve suffered from white flight,” said Dr. Baker. “This means that we have a concentration of poor black folks in a space where there are a lack of economic opportunities, low quality education, lack of access to mental health resources, access to any other resources that would contribute to them having the best quality of life.”
The panelists agreed that Black men have not recovered from 500 years of systemic racism and a society that marginalizes them and makes them feel invisible.
“Structural violence leads to direct violence, meaning we have institutions of power that engage in redlining (discriminatory housing policies) and lack of economic opportunities – they create harm and have great impact on communities of color,” said Dr. Baker.
Panelists also noted that obtaining a gun is a source of power, and therefore respect, that can be seen throughout American history.
“Ultimately, we live in a country where violence is how we handle things, it’s how we do conflict resolution,” Eure said. “Violence is historical, and again, about power and control, not knowing how to resolve conflict….black and brown communities are the most affected – or the most reported to be affected by gun violence – but when we’re talking about the bigger picture in more rural areas and with mass shootings, it’s about access to guns and the history of America.”
Law enforcement cannot exist without community-based public safety awareness and activism, said the panelists. But first, communities need to know how to respond.
Eure shared her grassroots activism approach, holding rallies to show communities how to become agents of positive change through education, political engagement, and even as direct as asking gun members to put their guns down. Creating interpersonal relationships and engaging with victims of gun violence is another critical component.
Alika Green shared her experience in a violence intervention program. “When you can meet them where they’re at and talk to them, most of them do listen,” Green said of working with those involved in gun violence.
Not enough research has been done to show the efficacy of these programs and of grassroots efforts, Dr. Baker explained, which is why more attention needs to be paid to public health.
Throughout the discussion, panelists also discussed where guns are purchased and trafficked in this country, how young people are drawn into gun violence, and how the pandemic exacerbated ongoing community issues, leading to more violence.
GMercyU’s Campus Conversations Series continues on October 14, 2021, with a live event titled “Firearms, Suicide, and the Global Pandemic: What Do We Know and What Can We Do?”