Reducing Violence Is A Matter of Public Health

28 Jul Reducing Violence Is A Matter of Public Health

This approach takes on all the more importance with a record number of drug overdoses in 2020 and rising alcohol abuse

If police and prison spending created true and long-lasting public safety, America would easily be the safest country in the world. Yet we’re not. 

The primary causes of violence and crime are rooted in unmet essential human needs. Our communities continue to experience severe unemployment, health crises, food insecurity, and housing shortages, all of which have been deepened by the pandemic. There are masses of people desperate to get by, combined with multiple ineffective support systems, creating scenarios where breaking the law is the most viable option for survival. We also see that desperation play out in the record number of drug overdoses in 2020 along with rising alcoholism. 

The pandemic both exacerbated and created a vortex of injustices, so it’s not surprising to see that crime is on the rise. Notably, shooting violence is up significantly, with the LAPD reporting in June that violent crime has risen 4.7% and that there’s been a 50% increase in shooting victims this year compared to the same period last year. 

This is unacceptable, but so is a misguided approach that doubles down on what’s proven to be vastly ineffective over the course of decades. Our opponents to this argument will cite defunding as the driver of this crime surge, yet that’s not accurate because defunding the police has barely happened, if at all. 

“We have decades of data showing the ineffectiveness of exorbitant police and prison spending in creating long-term public safety, along with countless stories from residents, friends and family about the devastating impacts of the prison industrial complex,” said Leslie Cooper Johnson, Interim President/CEO of Community Coalition. “What we don’t have is a well-funded alternative approach that puts people first, lifts up our community’s strengths and assets, and addresses our fundamental needs in a holistic fashion.  We have contributed significantly to this economy and this country through our labor, our taxes, our blood, sweat and tears.  We demand and deserve equitable and significant investment to heal our communities and provide our families with the fundamental supports that have been denied us for far too long.”

At Community Coalition, our origin story is rooted in the crack cocaine epidemic that was misdiagnosed and treated as a public safety crisis. There were widespread calls for more police and punishment that led to the mass incarceration of Black and Brown residents from South Los Angeles. These methods did not address the root causes of crime and violence and we CAN NOT let history repeat itself. Again, there are those same calls in what’s clearly another public health crisis that’s also resulting in a record number of drug overdoses and rising alcoholism. Back then, we launched the Prevention Network, an alliance of South LA social service agencies providing drug treatment, transitional housing, mental health, and youth and other services in the community. It continues to address and provide for those essential human needs. These issues are all interconnected and our solutions must be as well. 

Today, we are also calling for the expeditious hiring and deployment of 80 community interventionists that were allocated for in the current City budget to our communities. We need to address the long-standing trauma of violence in South LA by establishing Healing Centers in communities that have fallen victim to gun violence and police abuse. Lastly, there has to be a  commitment to create a public safety innovation fund to invest in community driven alternatives to policing, because those closest to the problem are also closest to the solutions that work.

We, along with what’s now a global movement, demand a seismic shift in how we create public safety, moving money away from systems of punishment into systems of care that invest in people, not criminalization. It is  imperative that the City and County embrace public health alternatives that address the core impacts of South Los Angeles’ health and economic disinvestment, of which crime and violence  are  byproducts.  

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