Opinion: Preventing loss of another generation to violence

Experts say cities across the U.S., including Raleigh, have seen more gun violence and fatal shootings over the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic fueled financial stress, unemployment, housing insecurity and health care concerns that may have contributed to a rising crime rate. (Dreamstime/TNS)
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Experts say cities across the U.S., including Raleigh, have seen more gun violence and fatal shootings over the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic fueled financial stress, unemployment, housing insecurity and health care concerns that may have contributed to a rising crime rate. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Every day on the streets of urban America, there is the constant and senseless barrage of Black male-on-male homicide, often the result of gun violence. As such, homicide is the leading cause of death among Black males ages 15 to 24. This all-too-common problem across the country threatens yet another generation of young Black men and thus should be considered a public health crisis. It is also a nonpartisan issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

Fourteen-year-old boys should not walk their neighborhood streets carrying a handgun as a means of protection or conflict resolution. Through no fault of their own, all of these acts of violence occur at a time when immature brain development dictates more proneness toward emotion-based and impulsive decision-making rather than being able to fully think through and evaluate choices and consequences.

Until the brain fully matures around age 25, this immaturity all too often results in limiting a young Black man’s life expectancy. Intervention is needed long before that happens and it needs to involve local, state, national and federal collaboration, resources and support at this critical time of development.

At the local level, city governments need to regularly assess data involving Black-on-Black male homicide rates and prioritize the importance of intervention strategies and providing badly needed resources. At the table should be representatives from law enforcement, schools, healthcare, mental health, social services and the like. Grassroots organizations need to be included and empowered in these discussions as well. Similar discussions should also be had regularly at the U S Conference of Mayors.

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J. Terry Parker

Credit: contributed

J. Terry Parker
Caption
J. Terry Parker

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Consideration should be given to evidence-based programs and assessing what has been effective in other urban centers. A one-size-fits-all approach is not the solution, given the differences across the country.

Urban school districts can also play a distinct role in deterring these violent and life-compromising behaviors. However, schools struggle daily with the challenges of educating Black boys. Having to deal with the consequences of poverty, and a list of other social inequities, classroom instruction often takes a backseat to the daily stressors in these boys’ lives. Given that, schools must be prepared and remain vigilant in providing life-relevant curricula and programs (social-emotional learning, social justice initiatives, etc.) as well as ongoing resources and support to ensure their successful completion.

Districts should strive to recruit, hire and retain classroom teachers of color, especially Black males at all grade levels. Schools must also provide ongoing and relevant professional development to ensure that classroom teachers, school counselors, nurses and others have what they need to meet the academic, health and psychological well-being of all students, especially Black males.

Schools alone cannot assume responsibility for this crisis, nor should they. Rather, engaging the community by offering collaborative programs in neighborhoods, community centers, faith-based entities and others has a much greater reach for intervention opportunities.

A few examples come to mind. The “Strong African American Families” program based at UGA has been researched extensively and positive outcomes were shown for multiple risk areas. There are programs for youth 10 to 16 years of age and their caregivers. It has been adopted across the country and implemented is schools, juvenile justice facilities, behavioral health organizations and others. The “Becoming a Man” (BAM) program for economically disadvantaged youth is another noteworthy intervention. Research has shown that it significantly increased high school graduation rates as well as decreased crime-related outcomes. It has been adopted nationally as well. A long-time community-based youth development program is run by 100 Black Men of America (100blackmen.org). Its work is accomplished through mentoring, education, health and wellness and economic empowerment. These men serve boys well by also engaging them in conversations that redirect the influence of toxic masculinity that so many Black boys and young men conform to as a way of life on the streets.

Nationally, governors in states with multiple urban centers should convene regularly to discuss these issues and collaborate fully with mayors in cities most impacted by the crisis. Here too, a solution-based focus should be the goal and the outcomes should be proactive in nature and involve multiple levels of intervention.

At the federal level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should be funded to conduct surveillance, collaborate with national organizations and partners, including cities, states and universities to recommend best practices and evidence-based interventions that would facilitate a reduction of violence on the streets. These efforts would have to be sustainable going forward.

Black-on-black male homicide is a crisis in America. It devastates communities and the toll on human potential is incalculable. This can no longer be ignored or viewed as a given in urban neighborhoods. As such, it is imperative that intervention efforts involve multiple sectors of society over a sustained period of time. This must be done now before another generation is lost.

J. Terry Parker, Ph.D., worked 20 years in Texas public schools in several roles. He recently retired from the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, where he worked with urban school districts across the country. He currently serves on the Expert Review Group for the National Consensus on School Health Education.