“America has a ‘Make My Day’ attitude; we pay lip service to being against violence, but yet we glorify it via movies, rap music, video games, and everyday life. The cultural and social factors are a very BIG part of the problem. As a result, our society’s become meaner”, stated Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, who has a 15-year career of working in inner-city hospitals, neighborhood clinics, and govermental positions.
She’s also been widely published on many health issues, is renowned as a lecturer, community service worker, and is a leading authority on violence prevention.
Dr. Stith’s interest in violence prevention stems from her residency at Boston City College, where she encountered a typical medical response of “stitch them up, and send them out.” During her third year of medical school, she was working the emergency room shift one day, doing stitches on a patient.
“As I was putting them in, the patient and I talked. It turned out that he had gotten cut for dancing with someone else’s girl at a dance. I finished stitching him up. As the patient left he said, ‘Don’t leave. The guy who cut me should be here in about an hour. You’ll get all the practice you need.’ The other doctors and I laughed, but shortly afterwards I felt terrible! I realized that had that young man tried to commit suicide instead, there would have been a ton of preventive measures I could have done immediately to prevent him from killing himself. Society accepts this as inevitable and acts only after the violence has taken place.”
This seems to be basically an American problem; compared to other countries, the U.S. homicide rate is 70 times higher than Austria, for example.
Dr. Stith noted that in many Scandinavian countries, because of high military enrollment, there are guns, two to three on average, in almost every household, yet the homicide rates are one of the lowest in the world.
Even the developing countries of black and brown people have much lower homicide rates, so contrary to popular opinion, violence is not inherent in minorities’ genes.
American media tends to focus on young urban black and Hispanic males. The young urban poor are at greater risk, but the homicide rate for young white men is increasing. It’s over two times that of Scotland and 35 times higher than Austria.
In one study, it was found that overcrowded whites have the same high homicide rates as overcrowded blacks. Less crowded blacks had the same lower rates as did less crowded whites.
Another study of homicide rates among young black men in the military showed figures to be one-twelfth this rate, and is lower than the rate for white men in this country.
“Our problem is one of getting along”, said Dr. Stith. ‘Stanger’ and ‘interracial’ violence gets very heavy media coverage, but the overwhelming majority comes from people we know. When a black kills a white, or vice versa, especially in Boston, it makes national news for days. But this is rare, for 90% of whites are killed by other whites, 90% of blacks are killed by other blacks. Half of the time people know each other; 20% of the time they’re family members.”
“I realize that more police, stiffer sentences, more stitches, and other traditional responses to violence won’t have any impact on two people who know each other who get into an argument, often while drinking, with a gun involved. There’s an inability to handle anger with those we know, let alone with people who are different.”
Dr. Stith suggested that society needs to learn cooperation skills, such as forgiveness, empathy, and compassion.
“When violence is committed, prompt attention’s given. According to the Center For Disease Control, an estimated $60 billion a year is spent on gunshot wounds alone. Primary prevention would involve changing our social and cultural attitudes, and taking care of children at risk. Kids know that if society really cared, they wouldn’t wait till after a shooting to do anything. Society must change; we don’t have a choice.”