Violence as a Communicable Disease

Resilient.  Infectious.  Highly contagious.  Does violence follow the same patterns as a communicable disease?  Yes, says the founder of CeaseFire, a gang intervention group.

CeaseFire’s founder, Gary Slutkin, is an epidemiologist and a physician who for 10 years battled infectious diseases in Africa. He says that violence directly mimics infections like tuberculosis and AIDS, and so, he suggests, the treatment ought to mimic the regimen applied to these diseases: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source. “For violence, we’re trying to interrupt the next event, the next transmission, the next violent activity,” Slutkin told me recently. “And the violent activity predicts the next violent activity like H.I.V. predicts the next H.I.V. and TB predicts the next TB.” Slutkin wants to shift how we think about violence from a moral issue (good and bad people) to a public health one (healthful and unhealthful behavior).

It makes sense, really:  gang violence and, indeed, WARS, are propagated because violence begets violence.  Just take a look at the Middle East.  My hat’s off to the people who take on this work.

“The interrupters have to deal with how to get someone to save face. In other words, how do you not do a shooting if someone has insulted you, if all of your friends are expecting you to do that? … In fact, what our interrupters do is put social pressure in the other direction.”

How effective is it?  From the CeaseFire website:

CeaseFire launched in West Garfield Park, one of the most violent communities in Chicago in 2000 and was quick to produce results reducing shootings by 67% in its first year. CeaseFire’s results have since been replicated more than 18 times in Chicago and throughout Illinois and has now been statistically proven by an extensive, U.S. Department of Justice funded, independent three-year evaluation. This evaluation scientifically-validated CeaseFire’s success in reducing shootings and killings by 41% to 73% and demonstrated a 100% success rate in reducing retaliatory killings in five of the eight communities examined.

– Blocking the Transmission of Violence by ALEX KOTLOWITZ (NYTimes)

(cross-posted to Tumblr:  Violence as a Communicable Disease)

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