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Friday, April 19, 2024
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DC Peace Team board member says unarmed police forces are “highly effective,” as conflicting student opinions linger

Experts share insights into why unarmed civilian protection, conflict mediation and relationship building can prevent gun violence in the U.S. amid rising shooting rates

As gun atrocities surge across the nation, the violence is having a disproportionate impact on the mental health of young people — causing young victims of violence to become perpetrators, experts say. 

New clinical findings suggest a rise in trauma responses from gun violence is sparking an increase in violence among young people who are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. 

Those who endure violent acts — like mass shootings — are almost four times more likely to become a perpetrator of violence than those who don’t, according to research from the National Library of Medicine. Much research has demonstrated that exposure to traumatic events during childhood is a key risk factor for both victimization and perpetration of violence, leading to more gun atrocities.

“It can be as simple as our young ones are seeing, hearing or witnessing the remains of a gun atrocity or police tape which leads to PTSD in kids,” said Jacquelyn Campbell, an expert in trauma, violence and mental health at the School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. “It goes undiagnosed for so many, and it becomes expressed as increased aggression, anger and anxiety.”

Addressing trauma in the District

The D.C. Peace Team is tackling those issues head-on in the District. They present an approach to security that relies on community trust, de-escalation and restorative justice rather than the use of force. 

“Restorative justice is a set of practices that emphasizes inclusion rather than exclusion,” Sal Corbin, a DCPT board member, said. “The current justice system is about exclusion and punishment, whereas restorative justice it’s about repairing harm and building community relationships to prevent gun atrocities in the first place.”

Restorative justice programs seek to make offenders accept responsibility for their acts, recognize the harm they have caused, provide them with a second chance and deter them from harming others in the future, Corbin said. It aims to actively include victims in the process to lessen their sense of helplessness and fear.

“Conflict is the cause of violence,” Corbin said. “For me, it’s about how we can navigate the conflict, moderate the conflict, how we can mediate, resolve and de-escalate it before it becomes violence was always my focus.”

Corbin, who has been working with the team for almost a decade, spoke candidly about how his own upbringing inspired his work in restorative justice.

In Corbin’s childhood home, he said, punishment was “swift and severe” — so he thought that’s the way the rest of the world was. Understanding people’s many unique upbringings pushed him to pursue advanced degrees in clinical psychology, and later, non-violent intervention. 

“Growing up in a violent family, watching my mom and dad fight, being scared of my dad’s temper, and seeing violence daily as a kid,” said Corbin. “I always wanted to be a mediator.”

That journey of understanding others, according to Corbin, led him to truly understand himself and the world that shaped him into who he is today.

Corbin works toward creating safe spaces and conversations to invite people to revisit their pain and embark on a journey of healing. He began this journey by attending support circles, then being extensively trained in restorative practices, to now facilitating restorative training in D.C. through DCPT.

“Unarmed police forces are extremely effective,” Corbin said.

What gets in the way of that, he said, depends on how tolerant law enforcement is of peace-keeping presences. Unarmed civilian protection involves deploying teams to events where violence or escalation is a possibility, where the DCPT works to de-escalate and intervene verbally and with their bodies.

“Nonviolent and unarmed does not mean non-physical,” said Corbin.

Many of the District’s top universities — American University, Georgetown University, George Washington University and Howard University — have unarmed police forces, though GW recently announced plans to arm some campus police officers. 

“Clearly there are circumstances where weaponry is needed,” said Corbin. “Our goal isn’t to replace law enforcement entirely, but rather give an alternative approach to it that doesn’t necessitate, increase or escalate violence.”

Student safety

College students, however, seem to have opposing viewpoints on the matter. 

“I’m not sure if I completely support disarming police forces,” Yolita Barreto, a sophomore in the School of Communication, said. “Even if we had stricter gun control policies, some people might find a way to own them and possibly misuse them so I think police forces should still have them for that reason.” 

Some say armed police don't make them feel safer, while others argue that police shouldn’t be completely unarmed.

“The police don’t prevent violence, they just show up afterward,” said Lucrezia Brody, a [insert class] in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Police are not ‘community intervention.’ They are visual reminders of violence and intimidation. Police perpetuate violence; rarely are they actually de-escalating.”

When people don’t know how to peacefully respond to conflict, Corbin said, they fall back on their default. If people aren’t introduced to healthy alternatives to cope with violence, then they’ll go back to what they see and what they know — which is most likely more violence. 

“I wouldn’t disarm them completely due to the unique threat of mass shootings on college campuses in the United States,” said Soukaena Gueye, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I don’t think there is a simple answer or method for actively implementing police reform.”

Gueye added that police forces need more “comprehensive training surrounding mental health” crisis intervention “imbued with de-escalation techniques.”

New methods of addressing violence and trauma

While college students remain unclear on what makes them feel safe, Corbin is currently developing a trauma awareness series for DCPT, actively promoting and presenting information on how to support others that feel challenged in their lives. Working with what he calls “the gun-encompassing traumas,” his aim is to be the support system vulnerable people need to prevent leaving them feeling the need to resort to gun violence.

Building community relationships, particularly in mental health spaces, is vital when it comes to dealing with the anxiety that comes from somebody getting shot, Corbin said. A safe, secure and welcoming space needs to be created for people to emotionally heal and share their stories, he added. However, none of that is readily available in our country. 

Healing is ultimately what DCPT is all about, Corbin said. “We judge, isolate, and ostracize victims of a mental health crisis, and yet we don’t set up the support for them to heal, which causes more shame and mistrust in the community,” he said. “So their need to displace that negativity is put into violence. It’s never a problem until it’s a crisis or explosion. We just keep reacting to it.”

Gun violence and a mental health crisis

A child’s upbringing and environment directly influence their mental state and the likelihood of perpetrating violence, and the susceptibility to having trauma, Campbell said. Brain science, according to Campbell, demonstrates that when someone has been highly traumatized and get triggered, the centers of the brain where emotions come from shut down.

Young people in the U.S. bear that risk. A new report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions found that gun violence was the leading cause of death for people under age 25. Young people under 30 were nearly ten times more likely to die by a gun than from the coronavirus in 2020.

“Gun violence is traumatizing, and when victims of this violence don’t get help, their natural response is to traumatize other individuals in that same way. Unresolved trauma leads to more victims becoming future perpetrators in a retaliatory cycle,” said Robert Schentrup, organizing manager of Team ENOUGH — a youth-led, activist gun violence prevention organization fighting for gun reform in America — in an interview with The Eagle.

Schentrup lobbies Sen. Mazie Hirono’s office about the Disarm Hate Act and is also partnered with the D.C Brady Campaign.

Schentrup said gun violence is something that “spreads epidemiologically like a virus,” jumping from person to person. Supporting individuals — and communities at large impacted by gun atrocities — by intervening early on, will “save lives,” because the root of violence is a “symptom of social issues,” Schentrup said.

This article was edited by Gabe Castro-Root, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Sarah Clayton and Leta Lattin. 

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