Monday, January 17, 2022


Article Index

*227 IV. Violence as a Public Health Issue

A young Black male's risk of becoming a homicide victim in the United States is one in twenty-seven, compared with one in two-hundred-five for young White males. The risk of becoming a homicide victim for young Black females is four times higher than for young White females in the White community. It is clear that violence in the African American community is a public health issue. However, even as the words public health arise, I have the cloud of the failed federal Violence Initiative to combat.

The Violence Initiative was a proposed federal initiative to combat violence in the inner-city, supposedly by focusing a more efficient effort toward collective policy making. However, the Violence Initiative was based on two disturbing premises. The first was that much of violent behavior in the inner city may have biological or genetic origins. The second premise was that factors of individual vulnerability and predisposition to violent behavior exist--factors that may be detected at an early age. To the African American community, the initiative's intervention and problem-solving policy mandate were to focus on the children of the inner city.

*228 [T]he advent of the federal Violence Initiative threatened the personhood and the voice of African-Americans, and more particularly of African-American children, by fostering biological and reductionist theories of genetic linkage between criminally-violent behavior and inner-city youth. Furthermore, it decontextualized and dehistoricized the idea of violence, and devalued the worth of the African-American child by reinforcing gender and stereotypical concepts of African-American women and men.

The federal Violence Initiative failed because it wanted to focus on the people as the cause of the problem. Yet, a public health approach is warranted if it were to take proactive strategies to counteract the powerful economic and political forces of our society that legitimatize these levels of violence. If we want to reduce violence, we will have to deal with the system that produces violence. Unfortunately, more often than not, a public health approach focuses on the human development in our community. A focus on human development will necessarily be flawed because any actions or behaviors of the black community will be viewed in the historical context in which the American experience with slavery served to legitimize the image of African Americans as unworthy of respect and bodily integrity, and undeserving of psychological well-being. Furthermore, the images of sex and subjugation in the national psyche further legitimized the attempts to link social conditions with genetic deficiencies.

Thus, even though they are free from slavery, Black men and women are bound now by a caste of race and poverty. They are welfare queens, and members of the underclass. They have become mothers and fathers of sons who have been labeled an endangered species, and of daughters who are caught in a cycle of teenage pregnancy. Subsuming and denying the individuality of African-Americans, these images represent inherent and permanent inequality . . . apart from any environmental influence. The social value of African-American children has never been recognized, and now their economic value is recognized as marginal or as having ceased to exist. Black people bear children who, by their very existence, become the tools for their own destruction, the murderers of their own spirits. These children become individuals who are seen as obsolete. African-American men and women in the inner city give birth to disposable children.