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Violence As A Public Health Problem: ‘A Most Violent Year’

Violence as a Public Health Problem: A Most Violent Year
The Huffington Post  – December 9, 2014
By Lloyd I. Sederer
Take a look at this interview between famed film director J.C. Chandor and violence control expert Dr. Gary Slutkin showing their remarkable resonance and shared mission:

JC Chandor, the writer and director of A Most Violent Year (Participant Media, 2014) saw how the school shooting in Newtown, CT, the town next to where he is raising his family, led to arming security guards. He understood that guns would spawn more violence, not less. He was moved to cinematically paint the story of violence, using a lawless New York City in 1981 as his canvas. He didn’t realize at the time what all that had to do with public health.

Gary Slutkin, M.D., left a comfortable life as a physician practicing in San Francisco to spend 10 years in Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda and other African countries fighting TB, cholera, and HIV/AIDS. He was an infectious disease doctor. He knew how to detect a communicable disease, interrupt its transmission, prevent its future spread, and work to change the culture and behaviors of a community to confer immunity against its deadly return. Having done his share of God’s work, he returned to the States, imagining a different professional life.

But Dr. Slutkin was far too expert a public health doctor to not apply his medical knowledge to the violence that infests our cities. He saw teenagers killing other teenagers. He saw how the patterns of violence transmission replicated those of infectious diseases, and the utterly ineffective approaches employed to stopping its deadly contagion, especially punishment or trying to “fix everything.” His work as a public health doctor would resume, only with a different pathogen — namely thoughts and expectations of others instead of bacteria and viruses.

Chandor and Slutkin were, however, distant actors on the violence prevention stage until Participant Media made for their introduction. Participant Media (Company With A Conscience has as its ethos joining cinema (and other forms of digital media) with social mission: their more than 60 films include The Help, Good Night, and Good Luck, Syriana, An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc., The Soloist, Waiting for ‘Superman’, Lincoln and Contagion (ever timely with Ebola this year).

As a result, two creative endeavors now find themselves joined: A social action campaign, from Participant, and Cure Violence, the non-profit organization founded by Dr. Slutkin that has had extraordinary success in controlling urban violence in cities throughout the world using public health, disease control methods.

Dr. Slutkin, in New York City for the premiere of A Most Violent Year, remarks that ending urban violence requires: identifying the sources (people and locations) of its transmission; using community workers (locals, natives if you will, who know their neighbors and their culture) to interrupt the transmission of violence; and changing the culture, the norms of a community — replacing “prisons with parks.” Cure Violence, is now working in 25 cities (over 50 communities), including Chicago, Baltimore, seven New York cities (including NYC, Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo), as well as in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, and South Africa. Reductions in violence of over 30 percent in year one of a program, and up to 70 percent in time, have been replicated 20 times and independently validated again and again. Dr. Slutkin likes to say the health approach to violence is “not a metaphor” — that the treatment works, proving ipso facto, that indeed violence is a contagious process.

Cure Violence appreciates that kids killing kids is the product of biological and group processes. This type of violence is a learned behavior: proximity and ongoing exposure to violence in a community triggers youth to imitate what they see. Our brains have “mirror neurons” that automatically incorporate and replicate what others of influence in our lives do.

Read more here.