Com­mu­nity ap­proach needed to curb gun vi­o­lence

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - By Jes­sica Bauer Walker Jes­sica Bauer Walker is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Com­mu­nity Health Worker Network of Buf­falo.

Our Buf­falo com­mu­nity re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced the tragic loss of 12-year-old Badr El­waseem. As a mother, I send my deep­est of sym­pa­thies to Badr’s fam­ily. This is a tragedy no par­ent should ever have to en­dure.

By all ac­counts, Badr was a kind, help­ful, in­quis­i­tive child. We can only imag­ine the man he might have be­come.

When­ever an act of gun vi­o­lence oc­curs in the com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially when an in­no­cent child is in­volved, there is a call for jus­tice. I urge our com­mu­nity to em­ploy a co­or­di­nated, holis­tic re­sponse to “jus­tice” that pri­or­i­tizes heal­ing and restora­tion.

From a pol­icy per­spec­tive, preven­ta­tive strate­gies can curb the epi­demic of on­go­ing gun vi­o­lence. According to the Amer­i­can Pub­lic Health As­so­ci­a­tion, guns kill more than 38,000 peo­ple and cause nearly 85,000 in­juries each year.

Buf­falo Pub­lic Schools’ Youth Risk Be­hav­ior Sur­vey re­ports that 59 per­cent of mid­dle school­ers have been in a phys­i­cal fight in the past year. These num­bers in­di­cate a pub­lic health and safety cri­sis.

In­te­grated ap­proaches that sup­port com­mu­ni­ca­tion, co­or­di­na­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion are key to ad­dress­ing gun vi­o­lence. Di­rectly im­pacted com­mu­ni­ties who have ex­pe­ri­enced in­di­vid­ual, fam­ily, com­mu­nity, racial and historical vi­o­lence, poverty and dis­crim­i­na­tion in many forms must be en­gaged to co-pro­duce so­lu­tions by en­ti­ties with the re­sources to im­ple­ment them.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion rec­om­mends a “Whole School, Whole Com­mu­nity, Whole Child” ap­proach. We can ap­ply the sci­ence of pub­lic health to pre­vent and treat gun vi­o­lence as a health is­sue more than a crime is­sue.

So­cial and emo­tional skills can be taught in schools and other ed­u­ca­tional set­tings to help chil­dren de­velop con­struc­tive ways to man­age stress and anger.

While Buf­falo Pub­lic Schools, the City of Buf­falo and Erie County have made some progress on these fronts, the lack of in­te­gra­tion of pol­icy, prac­tice and pro­grams across sec­tors, and in a top-down and bot­tom-up way, leaves much room for im­prove­ment. We con­tinue to react to prob­lems rather than pre­vent them.

As a par­ent and pro­fes­sional in this line of work, I am strength­ened by the re­silience of my com­mu­nity – es­pe­cially one as di­verse as we have at In­ter­na­tional School No. 45. The Mus­lim com­mu­nity has served as an ex­am­ple of strength, sol­i­dar­ity, love and pa­tience for us all.

No in­di­vid­ual or en­tity can do this alone. We must or­ga­nize across sec­tors and ar­eas of ex­per­tise, with both in­sti­tu­tional and grass­roots groups as lead­ers.

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