In memory of murder victims, set new priorities for action

Dorothy Johnson-Speight

is executive director of Mothers in Charge, an intervention, education, and violence-prevention program (www.mothersincharge.org)

Shari Silberstein

is executive director of Equal Justice USA, which advocates for justice-system reform and an end to the death penalty (www.ejusa.org)

Sept. 25 marks the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, a day designated by Congress in 2007. More than 14,000 people will be murdered in the United States this year - more than three times the number of Americans killed in the 10 years of the Iraq war. Today alone, 40 people will be murdered. Fifteen of them will be under the age of 30. At least one of them will be just 4 years old or younger.

We pause for one day to remember those who have been lost to violence. But we must work every day to stop these tragedies in the future - and we desperately need a new approach.

We are leaders of two national organizations that have worked for more than a decade with families who have lost loved ones to homicide.

One of us has lost a child to homicide; the other has not.

One of us is black, the other white.

One of us built a national violence-prevention and grief support organization for families traumatized by loss. The other, a national organization that organizes victims' families and others to transform the justice system.

We come from different worlds, but we are united in our call:

Violence and homicide are a public-health crisis that needs a public-health solution - one that is rooted in racial equity.

Homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males ages 15 to 34. For too long, the response to this crisis has been aggressive policing and incarceration. But mass incarceration, traumatizing police interactions, and a lack of care and support for people who experience violence have all worked to further devastate low-income black communities.

More and more policymakers, public-health officials, and law enforcement officials are coming to realize that we can't arrest our way out of this problem. Yet the public dollars spent on violence prevention and survivor support are dwarfed many times over by the billions of dollars spent on corrections. The survivor support that does exist is far below the need, and it rarely gets to communities of color, even though they experience the highest rates of homicide and gun violence.

If we're serious about building safe and healthy communities - and rebuilding communities most impacted by violence - our public dollars must reflect a different set of priorities.

Cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore have made investments in public health and trauma-informed violence-prevention programs in certain neighborhoods. Strategies include violence interrupters, hospital-based violence intervention programs, and community outreach workers, all of whom work together with the community to de-escalate conflicts before they become violent, prevent retaliation, support survivors, and connect those at risk with critical services that will put them on a different path.

Studies show that these programs have real impact, and are more effective than law enforcement approaches. Yet funding for them is never enough and always in peril.

When tragedy strikes, or when crime statistics are trending upward, the response is often the same: more police, more prisons.

Today, as we remember victims of homicide on this important National Day of Remembrance, we urge cities, states, and the federal government to honor those killed by giving a new answer.

Treat violence and homicide like the public-health crises that they are, and invest in prevention, healing, and equity for all.

momsforpeace@aol.com