Blog: Transforming the impact of public violence

  • Addressing bullies isn't just for schools

    July 5, 2017
    By Jim Skillington

    "I hope you don't remember me," the email began, "but I wanted you to know how sorry I am that my buddies and I made fun of the way you looked in junior high school. I have worried for years about my actions back then and I just found your email address. Please forgive me."

    Fortunately, I do not remember the incidents that had caused the writer angst for more than 50 years. (I do remember an elementary school bully who caught me at a footbridge after school one day and insisted that I sing a song about a chocolate pie before he would let me cross, but that just happened once.) I guess I am lucky that whatever occurred in junior high didn't have a lasting impact. Today, I might not be as fortunate. And, as the father of an eight year-old, I worry for her and her classmates.

    According to a study published last month in School Psychology Quarterly, nearly one third of middle and high school students in California have been bullied. Nearly 50 percent of those students have been targeted due to a bias such as their apparence, ethnicity, religion, disability or gender. More than 10 percent of all students -- approximately 301,000 -- missed at least one day of school because they didn't feel safe.

    Unlike my experience, many of these children will not forget the bullies of their lives. In addition to experiencing anxiety for personal safety and depression, some will turn to substance abuse and others to violence.

    The California study attempts to estimate the economic cost of bullying. In states where funding is based upon daily school attendance, the economic cost of bias bullying absences can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The study suggests that by learning the economic cost, school districts may be encouraged to spend more to address bullying.

    It is far too easy to chalk this up as a subject for school systems to solve. This is a challenge for the entire community. Leaders of youth programs in all settings -- athletics, scouts, faith-based organizations -- all need to understand how to recognize bullying and its impact. To ignore it, invites increasing incidents of violence and the trauma that accompanies it.

  • Media bias must be considered when addressing community trauma

    April 28, 2017
    By Jim Skillington

    In an incident of public violence two people are killed on a busy city street. Is it the work of a terrorist, a thug or a mentally ill individual?

    A new study suggests the implicit racial bias of news reporters is likely to dictate the answer.

    Cynthia Frisby, a professor at Missouri's School of Journalism, reviewed 170 stories in five major national publications describing public shootings from 2008 to 2016. The articles included shootings by police, self defense and criminals.

    Shooters who were white, her study suggests, were more apt to be described as heroes (75%) or as suffering from mental illness (80%), while African American or Hispanic shooters were more likely to be described as thugs or terrorists.

    Frisby's study, due to be published in Advances in Journalism and Communication also found that articles that stressed objective facts most often described white shooters while stories about shootings involving people of color often included subjective facts such as the possible circumstances that could have led to the incident.

    Negative stereotypes perpetuated by this kind of reporting has the potential to increase the impact of trauma experienced by ethnic communities when violence occurs. Programs designed to address community trauma must include media training.

  • Donations need to stretch further than immediate incident

    August 29, 2016 By Jim Skillington

    "Orlando charities learn from prior mass killings mistakes," read the headline on a story about problems to distribute donations in a timely manner in previous mass shootings.

    Unfortunately, to use an old saying, "the baby is being thrown out with the bath water."

    The consolidated OneOrlando Fund will be distributed exclusively to victim families and those survivors wounded in the Pulse Nightclub shootings. Nothing will be available to the hundreds, if not thousands, of Orlando area residents who were also traumatized by the event but were not on the property when the shootings took place. Also ignored are first responders, clergy and other caregivers who may not have appropriate mental health insurance to address the trauma from this incident of public violence.

    A better solution is to establish plans and protocols for possible donations in advance, explaining the Ripple Effect of trauma on the much wider audience than just those directly impacted.

  • Mass shootings video misses mark by failing to focus on long-term impact

    September 18, 2016 By Jim Skillington

    In September, The New Yorker posted a 16-minute video tracing many of the mass shootings that have taken place in the U.S. since 2011. It ends with Rep. Gabby Giffords calling on Congress to pass tougher gun laws.

    The film blends audio of 911-calls with videos of how the communities look today. The film's creator said he wanted to confront the normalcy of the cycle of outrage and inaction "artistically."

    There's no question that the film is haunting. However, I don't think the film maker succeeds in truly confronting the trauma of public violence. If anything, the film further normalizes it. Except for Rep. Giffords witness, there's not a single human shown.

    The film does not need to show death and carnage. But by illustrating each location with street scenes of life today, the film belies the long-term impact the incident of public violence has had on each community. The film feeds into the notion that there are no long-term consequences after the first responders clear the scene. Until we are willing to confront the reality of long-lingering community trauma, the cycle of violence will continue.