New Look at Preventing Violence Health Professionals Examine Scientific Approach to Curbing Murders in Inner City

By Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1992 | Go to article overview

New Look at Preventing Violence Health Professionals Examine Scientific Approach to Curbing Murders in Inner City


Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


RESPONSES to the Los Angeles riots have mostly taken two familiar forms - calls for better law enforcement and for improving social and economic conditions in central cities.

But a new approach to violence is gaining interest and adherents among people concerned with urban crime. It comes from an unlikely quarter: physicians.

Medicine itself is not necessarily involved. Instead public-health specialists are bringing a relentlessly practical mind-set to analyzing the patterns of where and how violence occurs, then exploring how it can be prevented.

Health professionals have noted that violence is one of urban America's gravest health problems, that in fact murder is the leading cause of death among young black men. "We're teaching black youths nutrition - `Eat an apple a day,' " - laments Mark Rosenberg, an official at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, when about one in 27 is being murdered.

The conventional American response to violence is dominated by the legal profession through the criminal-justice system. At bottom, it is moralistic - seeking to assert right by punishing wrong.

Medical researchers are not concerned with making moral judgments about violence, just reducing it. They apply the same broad scientific approach they use to track the spread of epidemics and search out ways to intervene. They range over nearly every discipline and science tracking the factors that appear to govern the spread of violence.

Their attention has focused on matters such as the presence of guns, how disagreements escalate into violence, and the role of alcohol and drugs. Goal:prevent violence

"The criminal-justice approach focuses resources on crime after violence and injuries occur," says James Mercy, Dr. Rosenberg's colleague at CDC. The two run a division there that has become the leading center for research and promotion of public health concern over violence.

Few policies or programs have yet emerged that public-health scholars can claim as the offspring of their ideas. There are some early stirrings. A handful of schools and consultants around the country are developing and using courses in conflict resolution to try to break the patterns that lead to violence. Many public-health departments are beginning to consider violence prevention in their work.

But through the 1980s articles on subjects such as the incidence of gun ownership have begun appearing in prestigious medical journals and public-health professionals have entered the professional networks of criminologists.

"The major ferment in the research community in the 1980s was the entry of the public health people," says Frank Zimring, a leading scholar of crime and violence at the University of California at Berkeley. …

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