"Interrupters" Needed to Address Gun Violence

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By Anne Glausser

Stopping gun violence isn’t just the job of law enforcement—it’s a community-wide issue that requires a public health approach.  That’s the message coming out of a day-long workshop organized by Cleveland city councilman Zack Reed that included officials from health, law and grassroots organizations.  

To stop the spread of an infectious disease—like tuberculosis or HIV—you can’t just treat the person infected; you need a prevention-based public health campaign that targets the root causes of the infection. 

That’s how advocates including MetroHealth’s CEO Dr. Akram Boutros say gun violence should be addressed. "The police, law enforcement, are the folks that go after the vector, the person who spread it.  Well I have to tell you, you do that in public health, you chase your tail," said Boutros.

Boutros and others on the panel suggested ways to get out in front of the problem, including the concept of deploying “interrupters”—that is, people who were formerly in gangs or formerly behind bars, who have credibility and can negotiate peace in neighborhoods they know well.

It’s a concept panelist Erik Cliette with the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation has put in action in his city.  "Their perspective is look, I’ve been shot before, I’ve been injured before, and I’m trying to tell you there’s a better way to move," he said.

Cleveland has tried this strategy as well but panelists said sustainable funding for it has been a problem.

Panelists also cited prevention strategies such as mentorships for young people, and using doctor’s visits as an opportunity to screen people for exposure to violence and connect them to community resources. 


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