Antiviolence discussion continues

In the midst of ongoing street and gun violence in New Haven, Conn. Senator Chris Murphy held a second roundtable meeting last week that convened leaders from all corners of the city.

In attendance were public officials like New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman and Public Schools Chief of Wraparound Services Susan Weisselberg. City activists, who made up most of the group that met with Murphy in February over a similar topic, were also present, along with Yale professors and family members of the victims of gang violence. This wide range of perspectives contributed to the roundtable discussion’s success in attracting federal support for programs they believe will help make the Elm City’s streets safer, according to New Haven Family Alliance Executive Director Barbara Tinney.

“There are some things that just can’t be done without proper allocation of fiscal resources,” Tinney said. “We absolutely need those diverse voices, like the families that have been impacted by this horrific problem in our cities, if we’re going to have a viable, comprehensive response.”

Tinney, who is a lifelong resident of New Haven, said she is encouraged by the fact that such meetings with high-ranking political leaders have begun to take place more regularly than they did in the past and that so many individuals and organizations have become engaged in the discussion.

Still, she said she sees room for improvement in how the issue of violence in urban areas is being approached.

“Violence is a consequence of certain factors,” Tinney said. “It just doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s also not an African-American problem — it’s a problem that is manifested in the African-American community due to certain conditions.”

Tinney added that public funds can be redirected to programs to engage at-risk youth, but also focused on the value of identifying risk factors in children who grow up in dangerous environments, citing evidence provided by clinicians and researchers like Steven Marans, a professor at the Child Study Center.

Marans, who leads the Child Study Center’s Childhood Violent Trauma Clinic — which seeks to provide early intervention and long-term treatments to youth who have experienced potentially damaging episodes of trauma — said trauma experienced during childhood can have long-term effects that may lead to violence.

“There is a vicious cycle of children who grow up in situations in which exposure to violence leads to trauma from which many kids, if they don’t get the appropriate help, don’t recover,” Marans said.

Still, Marans said he thinks that programs like this can help mitigate violence if given proper attention.

Marans emphasized that the attempts to peg violence to one root cause are misguided. He added that trauma often arises from problems like in-home abuse and neglect or the difficulties of growing up in a dangerous neighborhood, where some youth join gangs for a sense of power and pride that is otherwise hard to achieve.

“We’ve learned an enormous amount about programs that can be made available to kids who are at-risk,” Marans said. “There are tremendous achievements made in terms of trauma interventions and trauma-informed diversion programs for youthful offenders.”

Tinney said the leaders involved in this movement plan to take their suggestions to City Hall and seek Mayor Toni Harp’s support.

Harp has long voiced her support for Esserman’s approach to public safety, and the police chief said that efforts to revitalize youth programs in the community should be complemented by a local focus on family engagement and mental health.

“The one piece you should think of when you are on the large level thinking about support [is to] try to bring it back to the neighborhood level,” Esserman said during the roundtable discussion.

Another such conversation took place on Feb. 7, featuring Sen. Richard Blumenthal, along with Murphy. That discussion led to the creation of an Anti-Violence Coalition, led by activists including Rev. William Mathis, the director of Project Longevity, a coalition of community leaders working to prevent violence before it breaks out.

Mathis said that, though discussion with politicians was a positive first step, the success of the movement depends on local leaders’ continuing initiative.

“Just as we challenged our politicians, the challenge was also internal for us,” Mathis said. “We believe this is as important, if not more important, that not only [should] those who serve be doing something, but that we ourselves should also be acting.”

The New Haven Family Alliance has maintained a partnership with the Child Study Center for 10 years.

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