Rise & Shine - September 1
Decreasing Violence Through Connection
Rise & Shine, September 1st
The Rise and Shine discussion group meets Sunday mornings at 9:00 am in the Parlor. Adults from the 8:00 & 10:00 services gather for discussions that are relevant to their lives through the lens of a current topic and scriptural references. This week's discussion outline can be read or downloaded below.
- What is the difference between being a peacemaker and a peacekeeper?
- How does our current criminal justice system perpetuate or ameliorate the epidemic of violence?
- Where do you see yourself in the role of “violence interrupter?”
- What role should a church play in its community’s effort to diffuse violence?
- How can all Christians become “violence interrupters?”
In the News
Curing the Violence Epidemic
Not unlike AIDS or tuberculosis, violence is a disease. If such a contagious epidemic is ignored, it spreads. Recently, the CURE Violence method has spread across the country as a way to look at violence from a public health and science-based perspective.
Created in 1995 by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, CURE violence uses a model that views violence as a learned behavior that can be prevented and ameliorated by using disease-control methods. The “disease” of violence persists despite external punishment or moral judgment, just like any disease would persist if only the symptoms were treated. Therefore, in order to effectively combat peaking societal violence, social norms must be targeted from the source.
"It's extremely important to understand this differently than the way we've been understanding it," said Slutkin, "We need to understand this as a biological health matter and an epidemiologic process."
Intuitively we understand that people surrounded by violence are more likely to be violent themselves. This isn't just some nebulous phenomenon, argue Slutkin and his colleagues, but a dynamic that can be rigorously quantified and understood.
According to their theory, exposure to violence is conceptually similar to exposure to any other communicable disease. Acts of violence are the germs. Instead of wracking intestines or lungs, they lodge in the brain. When people, in particular children and young adults whose brains are extremely plastic, repeatedly experience or witness violence, their neurological function is altered.
Cognitive pathways involving anger are more easily activated. Victimized people also interpret reality through perceptual filters in which violence seems normal and threats are enhanced. People in this state of mind are more likely to behave violently. Instead of through a cough, the disease spreads through fights, rapes, killings, suicides, perhaps even media, the researchers argue.
"The underlying theme is learned behavior. That's what gets transferred from person to person," said Deanna Wilkinson, a professor in Ohio State University's Department of Human Development, who led the research in New York City and works with Cease Fire Columbus, that city's implementation of the CURE Violence principles.
Rowell Huesmann, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, echoed Wilkinson's point. "The contagion of violence is really a generalization of the contagion of behavior," he said. "How do cultures transmit norms and beliefs across generations? It's through observation and imitation. There's no genetic encoding."
If violence is to be treated as a disease, the people infected are not the source of the epidemic, but only symptoms of it. This is the view that has made the CURE violence program so successful. To date, more than 100 cities have adopted the CURE Violence approach across the country and around the world, experiencing a 20-60 percent reduction in shootings and homicides.
Not everybody becomes infected, of course. As with an infectious disease, circumstance is key. Social circumstance, especially individual or community isolation – people who feel there's no way out for them, or disconnected from social norms – is what ultimately allows violence to spread readily, just as water sources fouled by sewage exacerbate cholera outbreaks.
At a macroscopic population level, these interactions produce geographic patterns of violence that sometimes resemble maps of disease epidemics. There are clusters, hotspots, epicenters. Isolated acts of violence are followed by others, which are followed by still more, and so on.
There are telltale incidence patterns formed as an initial wave of cases recedes, then is followed by successive waves that result from infected individuals reaching new, susceptible populations. "The epidemiology of this is very clear when you look at the math," said Slutkin. "The density maps of shootings in Kansas City or New York or Detroit look like cholera case maps from Bangladesh."
Despite the research behind it, the violence-as-contagion framework is relatively little-known. There's still a tendency to view violence, in particular the mass shootings that precipitated the current national dialogue on violence, as isolated acts of madness or evil.
The CURE violence program is built on a platform of connecting trusted community members committed to both transforming the direction of their own lives as well as cleansing the violence from their hometowns with high-risk individuals and areas. Key to this approach, said Slutkin and Wilkinson, is understanding that quarantine – criminal incarceration – is a limited tool, something that needs to be applied in certain circumstances but won't suffice to prevent violence any more than imprisoning everyone with tuberculosis would stop that disease.
"You do interruption and detection. You look for potential cases. You hire a new type of worker, a violence interrupter, trained to identify who is thinking a certain way. They have to be like health workers looking for the first cases of bird flu," said Slutkin. "In a violence epidemic, behavior change is the treatment."
Ultimately this changes community norms, making it harder for germs of violence to spread. "The way that public health workers deal with the spread of AIDS is by educating, by redirecting behavior, by changing norms in a community so that everyone uses a condom," said Wilkinson.
By utilizing violence interrupters that have experienced and participated in the violence first-hand, the CURE violence method makes it possible to anticipate where violence will occur and to intervene before violence has a chance to erupt. After intervening, the interrupters can act as mentors for high-risk individuals, illustrating a path out of violence and an opportunity for a more nourishing life.
The CURE Violence approach is threefold: interruption (trying to stop fights before they happen), mediating (helping two parties resolve a dispute), and treating high-risk individuals (by connecting people to needed resources).
Social connection has been proven to have a multitude of positive physical and psychological benefits. It’s not too far of a stretch then to think that the key to stopping violence is connection, not incarceration.
More on this story can be found at these links:
Is It Time to Treat Violence Like a Contagious Disease?Wired.com
More 'Violence Interrupters' to Hit Streets of Ward 5 in D.C. WUSA9.com
Ruben, Violence Interrupter (video). USAid.gov
NYC Enlists Former Gang Members as 'Violence Interrupters.' AP News
Gary Slutkin: Disrupting Violence. Vimeo
Cure Violence: The Model. cureviolence.org
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace forthose who make peace.
Prayer for Peace (BCP p.815)
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.
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