The Third Annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence

September 27, 2013

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason

For the past two days an extraordinary group of people gathered to understand and to develop strategies to address a serious and complicated problem: the surge in violence committed by and – perhaps more troubling – against our young people.

The impact of this violence is greater than it appears on the surface. We can see the immediate physical damage it does, and we know it causes emotional trauma in the kids it touches. But we don’t always appreciate the full toll it takes on a child’s body and mind and on the families and communities he or she belongs to. A growing body of research in developmental psychology and neuroscience is showing us that trauma does great harm to the brain and can have life-long consequences. But there is good news, too. Just as research is showing us the extent of the negative effects of violence, it is also shedding new light on what we can do to counter those effects.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz stressed the Administration’s commitment to this crucial issue as they opened the third annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence, where mayors, police chiefs and youth from 10 cities shared their strategies to reduce violence and gang activity and mitigate its impact on our children.

Thursday morning, youth leaders told participants what they are doing in their communities to ensure brighter futures for themselves and their peers. The youth were from Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Salinas and San Jose, Calif., the communities involved in the Administration’s violence prevention initiatives, including the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Defending Childhood, Community-Based Violence Prevention and Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE).

Later, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary led mayors and other city leaders from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas and San Jose in a discussion about putting and keeping in place a comprehensive plan to address youth violence. The officials described how they align this work with other federal initiatives and how federal efforts are helping them achieve success and confront remaining challenges.

No discussion of a public safety issue can take place without considering the role of the media. What makes the news? What are people talking about on television and in print and social media? Why does it matter? A panel of journalists and youth leaders tackled these questions and more as they discussed how media coverage of youth violence affects the community’s response – and how the media can be utilized to build support for prevention and promote positive social change in a community.

Other workshops and panels during the two-day meeting addressed such issues as faith-based and law enforcement partnerships, street outreach programs like Cure Violence and CeaseFire, the essential need for public/private partnerships and more. Near the end of the summit, an interactive panel discussion helped participants understand trauma’s impact on child and adolescent development. A trauma-informed approach to violence holds tremendous promise because it focuses our collective efforts on a major root cause of violence and clearly outlines when and how we can respond to get young people off the path of poor choices and self-destructive behaviors.

The exhaustive examination of the problem of youth violence from so many angles left all participants with a renewed sense of purpose, and belief that, collectively, we are on the right path towards removing this social scourge from our communities.

The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice