The rising numbers and lasting impacts of Triad area gun violence
2021 was a year marked by violence in the Triad. Winston-Salem saw a 50% rise in homicides from the year before. It was a 35% jump in High Point. And while Greensboro saw some slight declines, it comes after a record number of homicides the previous year. Reducing violent crime is a top priority for law enforcement, policymakers, and community members, but it’s a daunting challenge that cuts across issues of poverty, guns, and race.
This week, we’ll look at the work going on behind the scenes to address this trend. WFDD’s David Ford spoke with Erica Payton Foh with the University of North Carolina - Greensboro who researches violent crime and its impact on communities.
On the lesser-known consequences of violence:
If we're talking to maybe city officials, there's less opportunities for economic advancement. If my city is considered to be violent, how does that impact folks willing to move here or our job opportunities, future companies coming to a community if it's riddled with violent crime? And then also you have to think about the individual. Something that I don't think we always think about or is at the forefront is that there's the injury, and there's the death that's right out in front of you. But there's these long-lasting consequences of having experienced a loved one die from violence that stays with us for a very long time. How do we promote healing for individuals that have been victims of violence?
On the frequency of violent attacks and healing:
If you have throughout your childhood and adulthood, these different occurrences of losing a loved one to violence or yourself being a victim of violence, that accumulates. And so again, if we're not addressing the mental health of an individual that lives in that environment, or has experienced that, then we have these other consequences that we may not outwardly connect to, this person is dealing with trauma — or actually — this person is not dealing with trauma. And so, the outcomes are these negative behaviors. And we're talking about youth that might be not going to school. And they're not going to school, so that means that they might be doing other things that they shouldn't be doing. Coping mechanisms — there's good coping mechanisms, there's bad coping mechanisms. A good one: practicing resiliency skills, grounding techniques, meditation, having positive peer to peer relationships, or adult mentorship. Negative coping mechanisms, you know, smoking, drinking, not knowing how to properly engage in a conversation without it escalating and being something that's a violent incident. That's the aftermath of not dealing with trauma adequately from being exposed to violence or being a victim of violence.
On what good violence prevention strategies look like:
I fully believe in a comprehensive approach to addressing violence. And this public health approach is comprehensive. And it starts off defining and monitoring the problem. So, that’s talking to people, being aware of what's happening in your community, but also being aware of the statistics. So, what are the statistical trends? Is violence really that big of an issue now? Has it grown? Is it less of an issue? So, having those statistics and being aware of what's happening in your community. You also want to hear the stories of individuals that may have been impacted in violence, because those voices, in my opinion, should be elevated and also add to and provide a little bit of context around those statistics.
Then the second step is really thinking about what are some of those risk factors that may contribute to those statistics and those stories that we're hearing from the community. They're not just at the individual level. I think sometimes we stop right there as to why someone chooses to become a gang member, or why someone is always aggressive and angry, right, we focus on the individual level. But there are community level factors. There's things that happen in the home, there's also the societal issues that contribute to violence. Individual level? You know, not having a parent in the home all the time, so that not having a lot of supervision, that's a risk factor for youth violence. Not having a lot of — you know, people keep an eye on you — not having positive mentorship. But also there's community level factors. So limited resources or access to those resources. And then there are societal issues. So, the question though, is how do these systems work together? Or how do they not work together to collectively address this issue comprehensively? So, a preventative approach to violence should include public health, but it should include social work, law enforcement, criminal justice, school systems, we all have to come together to address this issue because the issue is multifaceted and is also very complex.