Prevention Institute’s Larry Cohen and Maggie Barnes: Equity and Violence Prevention Go Hand-in-Hand

This post is part of a series presenting equity leaders’ reactions to “America’s Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model” — a new paper that challenges the nation to invest in our collective future. This post is written by Larry Cohen, Executive Director, and Maggie Barnes, New Sector Resident, of the Prevention Institute. Click here to read other reflections.

We thank PolicyLink for catalyzing a thoughtful and comprehensive discourse on equity and for emphasizing that equity is a superior growth model. As America’s Tomorrow points out, major shifts in policy and politics are needed at every level.

Efforts to achieve equity and to transform communities into healthy places must emphasize safety. Violence affects young people of color and those living in low-income areas more than other groups. Historically vulnerable populations, including women, children, elderly, those with disabilities, and LGBTQ communities also experience more violence. Violence and other inequitable conditions are unnecessary and preventable, and have been produced by historic and systemic social injustices or as the indirect consequence of social policies, practices and norms. Links Between Violence and Health Equity reveals how violence begets inequity, and inequity violence. It is a vicious cycle, and the cycle must be interrupted.

Violence affects everyone. The much larger price of violence involves the devastating emotional costs experienced by relatives and friends of victims, and the fear and general reduction in quality of life that the threat of violence imposes on everyone in America, including those who are not victimized. The social and economic costs of violence do not remain isolated to the areas in which the violence occurs. First and foremost, preventing violence is about saving lives and reducing the physical and emotional trauma, which besets far too many communities. Preventing violence is also necessary to foster well-being and to strengthen communities, including advancing economic growth and competitiveness.  Spillover effects in neighboring communities include lower business development, less confidence in safety, and fewer educational and financial opportunities for community members. Safety has a critical impact on not just where we shop, where we walk, but whether we can walk in our neighborhood, whether there are jobs available, whether there are places to shop, if children are able to learn. Children who are scared at school prioritize safety over learning. Children are also less likely to be active if the local park isn’t safe and there are no safe places to play—people who experience or fear violence bear a greater risk of developing chronic disease.

PolicyLink points out the value of workforce development and the need to build sustainable jobs and to invest in our youth—these are also critical strategies for violence prevention. Young people need connection, identity, opportunity and hope, and addressing violence and the lack of safety is essential for creating healthy, thriving communities. As Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in LA, best states it. “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

We know what to do to prevent violence. We can reduce rates of violence right now—cut them in half—without additional funding, simply by reprioritizing our investments and expenditures. It’s simply a question of political will. Communities have successfully reduced violence through comprehensive, coordinated efforts across sectors and community partners. UNITY, our work with cities across the nation, makes it clear that supporting and implementing equitable opportunities not only leads to a stronger economy, it leads to stronger communities.

Equity can’t be achieved without improving safety and preventing violence, and violence cannot be reduced without improvements to equity. We must all work together to create safe, equitable, healthy communities.

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