Protecting All Our Children From Violence
The devastating shooting that occurred last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, has touched all of us. In the last few days, we have mourned together in our families, schools, and communities, and nationally via television, radio, and the Internet. This stunning loss of life and innocence cuts deeply, even for those not connected personally to the victims and their families.
What happened on Friday, senseless as it is, leaves us struggling to comprehend how such violence can infiltrate even the safest community. The tragedy has raised questions about gun control, violence in the media, and more.
These questions grow louder and more urgent every time our nation experiences an act of mass violence, but the issues don’t go away between high-profile events. Just two days before the Newtown shooting, the Defending Childhood Task Force issued recommendations to US Attorney General Eric Holder on how to prevent, reduce, and treat children’s exposure to violence.
As the task force report points out, we lose nine children each day in the United States to homicide and suicide—that's more than 3,000 of our kids every year. This raises yet another question: How can we be losing so many kids to violence every single day?
The sad fact is that many children―similarly innocent and full of promise―grow up in places where hearing shots fired is part of daily life; where ducking and covering is not just practiced but ingrained; and where dying young is the expectation, not the exception.
The Defending Childhood Task Force members heard testimony from individuals all over this country—from Anchorage to Miami, from Albuquerque to Baltimore—who talked about what they had seen and experienced. (Videos of all four hearings are available on our website.) Much courageous, important sharing and discussion took place, but in light of what happened last week, one voice stands out.
Roy Martin, a program manager for Partnership Advancing Communities Together, spoke about his own childhood growing up in the same Boston neighborhood in which he now works:
“Being hurt and hurting people was part of everyday life for us growing up. Nothing was weird about violence, selling drugs, or addiction in my neighborhood except the people who weren’t violent, selling drugs, or weren’t struggling with some sort of substance issue. There was no day or place where the threat of violence wasn’t ever-present and entirely possible. From my perspective, that has not changed in the lives of the young men I serve today.”
The violence in Roy’s community doesn’t offer the stark drama that it does in Newtown, which has been compared in the media to a Norman Rockwell painting. Yet communities like the one in which Roy grew up are found in cities, in rural areas, and on tribal lands all across this country. In all of them, violence breaks hearts and snatches young lives just as it has in Newtown.
To make a long-lasting positive impact on children’s exposure to violence, we need to target the issues that steal childhoods every day across this country.
The Defending Childhood Task Force’s report is a great place to start, whether we are policymakers, practitioners, or simply citizens who are aching to do something in the face of this terrible loss. Every one of us has an important role to play in protecting children—not just when tragedy strikes, but every day.
The task force report contains 56 recommendations on protecting children from exposure to violence and helping them heal. What can you do today? Here are some ideas:
- Email or call your legislator and tell him or her that you support the task force’s recommendations.
- Be there for a child you think may have been exposed to violence. Identifying and reaching out to children in need is the first step to getting them help to recover from trauma.
- Encourage others to speak out about violence and protect children.
NCCD’s thoughts and prayers are with the families of those whose lives were lost in Newtown on Friday. This tragedy is already motivating the nation to find better violence prevention strategies. Let’s focus on what is effective in preventing violence and protecting all of our kids, every day and in every place.
Erin Hanusa is the Senior Communications Manager at NCCD.