Engagement for Answers
September 13, 2003
Incidents of homicidal gang activity in Los Angeles declined significantly in the late 1990s but there has been a rapid rise in recent years.
Gang violence is a law enforcement challenge but it is also a public health issue. Pathologies afflict the gang-initiated. For grief-ridden survivors of fatalities -- fearful residents living in “gang territory” and victims who survive gang violence -- there is often undiagnosed mental trauma. Emergency medical centers are often strained by gang-related carnage.
It’s been almost two decades since the U.S. surgeon general’s first conference on the public health dimensions of violence. According to the World Health Organization, significant gains have been made in epidemiology to understand risk factors for violence and to apply prevention strategies.
However, gang violence is primarily framed as a public safety issue. It’s a frame that promotes the perception that the only major solutions are related to law enforcement. In this frame, there are no connections between medical practitioners and gang members, victims and community stakeholders beyond the nexus of the emergency room.
This frame can be refocused if:
- Public health officials, mental health experts and providers of emergency medical care more effectively explain the impact of gang activity on public health and more actively disseminate the medical and psychiatric approaches to mitigating gang violence.
- Community stakeholders involved in counseling and intervention engage public health and medical officials in solutions-based partnerships.
- Journalists better understand the largely under-reported impact of gangs and gang violence on public health and find sources who can present health-based solutions.
On Sept. 13, 2003, leaders from these three constituencies came together to seek solutions at a public forum sponsored by the UCLA Center for Communications and Community, the Black Journalists Association of Southern California and The California Wellness Foundation. The forum was produced in association with the Los Angeles chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, the California Chicano News Media Association and the Los Angeles Press Club.