Health Professionals for New Safety Priorities

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An Open Letter to Elected Officials of the City of Columbus:

We, the undersigned, write to you as health professionals who work, study, and care about the health, safety, and well-being of Columbus residents. We write in response to the deaths of Henry Green, Tyre King, and Jaron Thomas, as well to advocate for evidence-based approaches toward addressing community and law enforcement violence in Columbus.

Too many black and otherwise marginalized Columbus residents have been killed or injured by gun violence. Furthermore, neighborhoods without access to economic opportunity bear disproportionately high incidences of injury, death, and psychological trauma from this violence. In addition to decreasing poverty by addressing social and structural determinants of health, we support investing resources into evidence-based programs that use public health approaches to prevent and interrupt violence.

For example, in 1995, epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, M.D. developed a program using a public health framework to address community violence. The program, called “Cure Violence,” focuses on three main actions: detection and interruption of potentially lethal events, behavior change among at-risk populations, and changing community norms. Directly impacted community members in neighborhoods are trained as violence interrupters and outreach workers to mediate escalating conflict and prevent violence. This model has been implemented in cities across the country and globe, and has consistently led to statistically significant decreases in shootings and killings when appropriately funded.

Tough-on-crime policies employed by most police departments have compounded the problem of community violence, not solved it. Research shows that a public health approach diminishes community violence, and is supported by the American Public Health Association policy statement, Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue, released in November 2016.

At the State of the City address on February 23rd, we will be listening for the ways in which our city has used public health approaches to create a safer and healthier community for all. We will be looking for a few key action items which have been outlined by the American Public Health Association as effective means of addressing community and police violence as an urgent public health crisis. We seek a public health strategy to prevent community and police violence that incorporates four main elements:

  • Decriminalization of homelessness, immigration, sex work, and drug use in order to respond to these issues with health and social-service support
  • Robust police accountability measures to improve transparency and ensure that law enforcement policies and practices address and reflect the needs of the community
  • Investment in policies that promote racial and economic equity to address the root cause of community and law enforcement violence in specific neighborhoods, such as increasing equitable educational and workforce opportunities
  • Community-based alternatives to address dangers and to prevent violence and crime, such as community-run violence intervention programs, which use proven tactics to prevent crime, violence, the need for police intervention, and unnecessary death as well as restorative justice programs which address the needs of victims, offenders, and the community rather than enacting punitive consequences

We believe that the City of Columbus possesses the resources and community support to create a healthy community that is safe for all of its citizens.  Local community-based restorative justice initiatives already exist. However, limited investment of resources prevents them from reaching the entire community.

We urge you, our elected officials, to engage the members of our community who are most likely to be victims and/or perpetrators of violence and learn from their experiences and perspectives. Community groups have been demanding investments in public health approaches since Henry Green was killed by plainclothes officers on June 6th, 2016. We urge you to invest resources in our communities hardest hit by violence in order to rebuild and recover from trauma and lack of opportunity. We believe these goals are within reach and we look forward to working with you to make our city a safer place for all residents

Sincerely,

Jessica Roach, LPN, MPH(c), University of Illinois- Chicago, School of Public Health, Center of Excellence, Maternal Child Health

Jackie Mostow, Medical Student, The Ohio State University College of Medicine