Congress Convenes Experts to Respond to Newtown
By Leah Robertson
In the wake of the tragedy at Newtown, Congress has held a series of convenings to hear from experts on gun violence prevention, mental health, and youth violence prevention. Despite the array of topics discussed, one common theme has emerged: in order to decrease violence, we need to invest real resources in youth engagement and community development, and we must get rid of harmful zero tolerance policies funneling kids down harmful paths.
On Tuesday, January 22, Representative Bobby Scott hosted the Youth Violence Prevention Summit. Panelists Dr. Dewey Cornell, Dr. Peter Scharf, Chief Judge Chandlee Kuhn, Dr. Aaron Kupchik, Sheriff Gabe Morgan, Rashad Burns, and Brian Bumbarger spoke about the importance of focusing on communities to provide places where youth can feel safe, comfortable, and connected to adults who can help them stay on a positive track. Of note, they focused on the need to pass the Youth Promise Act, a cost-effective, prevention-based, and most importantly, effective program.
Panelists detailed programs and pathways to reducing violence in communities and strongly reinforced the importance of diminishing school pathways to the juvenile and criminal justice system. Recognizing that school safety must be our highest priority, it is essential that every possible effort is made to ensure our kids are safe. However, as stated directly by Dr. Kupchik, we must think critically about the effects of policies we implement and do what works, not what feels right. We are too quick to listen to our gut, saying “More cops in schools can’t hurt.” But the data shows that it can, and it has. There is substantial evidence that cops and school resource officers (SRO) in schools increase delinquent behavior and decreases educational achievement by changing the school atmosphere from one that inspires pathways to success to one that expects, and unknowingly encourages, violence and failure from the kids.
Furthermore, we have an alternative. We know that prevention-based programs work. Mr. Bumbarger detailed a strong community-based initiative in Pennsylvania - based on the "Blueprints for Violence Prevention" initiatives in Colorado - that effectively decreased juvenile crime, increased educational achievement and consequently resulted in the closure of a 100-bed juvenile correctional facility.
Immediately following the Youth Violence Prevention Summit, Representatives Mike Thompson and Napolitano co- hosted a briefing on Mental Health in America. Panelists emphasized that, despite the widespread effect of mental disorders and the numerous warning signs, society too often stigmatizes mental health issues, leaving people suffering and, on rare occasions, at risk of violent behavior. They emphasized that if society focused on a preventative model, teaching parents and teachers to notice patterns of behavior that indicate mental disease (which usually appear between the ages of 14 and 24 but usually go untreated for almost a decade) without stigmatizing kids, we could save countless people – both those directly affected and those affected by their actions while unmedicated - from the pain associated with untreated mental disease.
|Panelists (from left): Gaspar Perricone, James Cummings,
Dr. Robert Ross, Jeannie Campbell,
Marc LeForestier, and David Chipman
Finally, on Wednesday, January 24, Congressman Thompson held a Gun Violence Prevention Summit with 20 Members of the House. Witnesses included: Gaspar Perricone, president of the Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance; David Chipman, former special agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); Jeannie Campbell, executive vice president of the National Council for Behavioral Health; Marc LeForestier, deputy attorney general at the California Department of Justice; Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment; and James Cummings, hunter, sportsman, gun owner and NRA member.
|Dr. Robert Ross with Chief Counsel Bobby Vassar|
Despite their diversity of backgrounds and beliefs, each panelist agreed: more guns and more law enforcement in schools is NOT the answer. Mr. Cummings, a sportsman, gun owner and NRA member, stated outright, “The worst thing I can see is my 2nd or 3rd grade teacher carrying a gun.” Instead of arming schools, Dr. Ross emphasized the need for community investment, showing a video of 33 kids demanding, “Don’t lock down our schools” and asking for a plan that involves comprehensive health services and gets rid of zero tolerance policies that only make our schools more dangerous. The conclusion is obvious. Law enforcement, especially SROs, in schools are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. Community-based programs save money, protect communities, and lead to a safe and productive society. The universal heartbreak after Newtown is just another example that every community is our community, and every child is our child. We need to do what is right for them, not what feels right. There is no other solution.
For more information on keeping our communities safe, visit: http://www.promotesafecommunities.org