WBEZ | Flashpoint http://www.wbez.org/tags/flashpoint Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Restoring Roseland: Confronting violence with peaceful practices http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/restoring-roseland-confronting-violence-peaceful-practices-106651 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/130412_Restorative Justice 1_ko.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>More than 500 homicides were reported in the city of Chicago last year: 361 of the victims were African-American males; 220 were between the ages of 15 and 24.</p><p>In the fall of 2009, Christian Fenger High School became national news after violence took one of its own. A short while later, the school implemented a program that aims to squash America&rsquo;s culture of violence. It&rsquo;s called restorative justice, and for Fenger, it came after a particularly gruesome death.</p><p>One September afternoon, a fight stemming from an earlier gang-related shooting erupted just blocks from the school. Amateur video of the mob-like brawl showed dozens of people hurling punches, kicks, bottles and bricks at one another. Sophomore Derrion Albert was killed. He was the third Chicago Public School student killed, just a few weeks into the school year.</p><p>Senior Gerald Banks was a class behind Albert. He remembered always being on edge his freshman year. Banks recalled news cameras parked outside of the school every morning and fights every day.</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody had their backs turned, making sure nobody was going to swing,&rdquo; Banks remembered.</p><p>Fenger&#39;s Culture and climate specialist Robert Spicer arrived at the school just two weeks before Albert&rsquo;s death. He referred to Albert&rsquo;s death as rock bottom, noting that the school had well over 375 arrests that year.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of these young people out here shooting and do all that stuff, they don&rsquo;t want to do this,&quot; Spicer explained.&nbsp;&quot;They don&rsquo;t want to carry a gun. But they feel forced to&mdash;because they feel like nobody out here is going to protect them so they have to protect themselves. So the only way they can be heard and respected is if they carry a gun. That&rsquo;s terrible.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Fenger needed a new approach&mdash;which is exactly what Spicer was brought there to do; and so he started implementing restorative justice.</p><p>Restorative justice is a philosophy that centers around relationships and trust. It seeks to address the needs of the victim, the wrongdoer and the community. It&rsquo;s also about healing: dressing the wounds many of these children leave raw and bare. The ones that eat at them until they&rsquo;re overcome.&nbsp;</p><p>He saw an opportunity for Fenger to be the game changers to, as he put it, &ldquo;show our society that it&rsquo;s possible to go into an urban environment, introduce these practices and be able to bring civility and sanity back into that school, any school.&rdquo;</p><p>Part of this process takes place in the peace room, just down the hall from the Fenger&rsquo;s main office. There, on the floor, in the middle of the room, is a black and white mat. On it rests &rdquo;talking pieces&rdquo; objects of significance to Spicer and the seniors who serve as peer jurors and help lead peace circles. The pieces are things like stuffed animals, a rain stick, a tree stump...when a member of the circle holds the talking piece, it&rsquo;s their time to talk.</p><p>The peace room is where stakeholders in a conflict can come together to have a summit of sorts. Last week, a group of freshman girls gathered there after gossip got a little too close to a fight. With a potential 10-day suspension on the horizon, Spicer rerouted the girls to a peace circle.</p><p>Spicer told them that the circle was their time to be real. Their time to say what was on their minds. Because, as he put it, no one else was going to give them the time&mdash;not the dean and certainly not the real world.</p><p>&ldquo;You know this is not a game,&quot; Spicer warned.&nbsp;&quot;You know what&rsquo;s waiting for you if you decide to take your attitude and go out here and do stupid, silly stuff&mdash;they ready to send you right up out of here. And that world out there, as cold as it is...it&rsquo;s even colder without an education.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>That&rsquo;s the meat and potatoes right there: The object of the game is to get kids back in class. Because a kid with an education is much more likely to survive.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;People who drop out from high school are much more likely to become gang-involved than those (who) do not. And we know that a very, very important predictor of graduating high school is being able to ready by third grade,&rdquo; <a href="http://www.law.yale.edu/faculty/TMeares.htm" target="_blank">Tracey Meares</a>, the Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law at Yale Law School, explained.</p><p>Meares&rsquo; research focuses on crime prevention strategies. She spent a great deal of time looking at the city of Chicago, particularly areas of high crime and poverty.</p><p>Meares subscribes to the idea that violence should be treated like a public health issue, more specifically, like a blood-born pathogen. Therefore the best violence-reduction strategy, as Meares described it, is to identify the people who are central to the network of crime, who occupy important places in densely connected networks, and to intervene to try to get them to stop engaging in violence.</p><p>Almost four years into Fenger&rsquo;s philosophical switch, the rate of freshman on track to graduate rose to between 75 and 85 percent, from around 40. Arrests at school were down. So why not put a peace room in every school?</p><p><a href="http://umojacorporation.org/leadership/staff/ilana-zafran/" target="_blank">Ilana Zafran</a> helps implement restorative justice programs in partner schools around Chicago. She said the biggest problem is patience. People want immediate results but changing a culture and restorative justice takestime.</p><p>The other criticism, Zafran explained, is that people want those who have wronged them to be held accountable. Or more intimately, when confronted, to admit their error and apologize. But, she said, sometimes people aren&rsquo;t ready to admit wrongdoing. And that can be hard.</p><p>Back at Fenger, after the talking piece had been round the circle a few times, one of the freshman girls echoed Meares&rsquo; earlier point.</p><p>She explained that while she might be &ldquo;the coolest, funniest short person you know,&rdquo; if someone had a problem with her, she&rsquo;d just avoid them. Because, she shared, her friend&rsquo;s cousin was shot and killed over some &lsquo;he-said-she-said stuff&rsquo;&mdash;and if her friend had been there, she&rsquo;d be gone too. And she wasn&rsquo;t about to lose her life over something as small as all that. She wanted to be sure the group knew, for her, the situation was over. And asked them to let it go.</p><p>The hope is that young people can learn to let go. That they can squash things before they escalate, before someone raises a hand or a gun. Or that they share senior Ana Muniz&rsquo;s philosophy on fighting.</p><p>&ldquo;You need two people to fight&mdash;I&rsquo;m not available. I&rsquo;m never available. If you want to talk,&rdquo; Muniz clarified, &ldquo;I&rsquo;m available to talk.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Muniz, who was raised in Mexico, said she already took the lessons she&rsquo;s learned to her family back home. She convened peace circles at her younger sister&rsquo;s school. The hope is that peace circles continue to expand and that what&rsquo;s happening at Fenger will continue to create ripples of peace.</p><p dir="ltr" id="internal-source-marker_0.5029294477684348"><em>Katie O&rsquo;Brien is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/katieobez" target="_blank">@katieobez</a></em></p></p> Mon, 15 Apr 2013 11:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/restoring-roseland-confronting-violence-peaceful-practices-106651 Without Means: The role of guns in suicide deaths http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/without-means-role-guns-suicide-deaths-106590 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Guns and Suicides_130409_sh.jpeg.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Lindsay Van Sickle&rsquo;s dad loved to shoot. He lived on a farm and hunted as a little boy. As an adult, he spent time at the shooting range. He collected what she calls &ldquo;cowboy guns&rdquo; and loved the history behind some of his WWII firearms.</p><p>Van Sickle describes her dad as the life of the party. But he also struggled emotionally.&nbsp; In July of 2011, he took one of his guns, locked the rest of them up, left his house and shot himself at a park. He was 54. The year he died, of the 30,867 gun deaths in the U.S., 19,766 were suicides.</p><p>Van Sickle says her dad was a model of responsibility with guns.</p><p>&ldquo;At the house they were locked up in the basement. I didn&rsquo;t even know where the keys were,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Even a few of my dad&rsquo;s cousin&rsquo;s who grew up kind of like my dad, were shocked that he would take something he loved so much and use it to end his life.&rdquo;</p><p>As Van Sickle watches the news, and sees all these debates about guns, she&rsquo;s found herself wondering, what role these suicides play in the debate.</p><p>&ldquo;When something like this happens, you can&rsquo;t help but wonder about the what if. If laws were different, if rules were different, if the outcome would be the same,&rdquo; said Van Sickle.</p><p>I posed that question, about laws and suicide, to Dr. Cathy Barber at the Harvard School of Public Health.</p><p>She says first, it&rsquo;s important to note why the method of suicide matters.</p><p>A number of years ago, Barber was helping develop a new system for the federal government called the National Violent Death Reporting system.</p><p>&ldquo;In the process of doing that, I would read through thousands of suicides, little thumbnail sketches of suicides,&rdquo; Barber recalled.</p><p>Barber was surprised at how many of the suicides seemed impulsive. Barber, like many others, assumed that suicide is something people plan. In another study, people who almost died in a suicide were asked how long after they decided to attempt suicide did they actually try it. Twenty-four percent said under 5 min. Two-thirds said under an hour. Only 16 percent said a day or more.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;d think this is such a huge decision, you&rsquo;d think it would be a more deliberative one,&rdquo; said Barber.</p><p>This matters because even though people may have long battles with depression, the window of time in which they actually want to attempt suicide is small. And many people who survived suicide attempts, never go on to try again.</p><p>So Barber, came to a simple conclusion. What mattered in that tiny window was the instrument available to the person wanting to commit suicide.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a huge difference across methods of suicide in how likely they are to actually kill. Firearms are actually at the top of the heap.&rdquo;</p><p><br />Suicide attempts with a gun, result in death 85 percent of the time. Poisoning, for example, only results in death 2 percent of the time.</p><p>State suicide statistics illustrate this as well.&nbsp; Eastern states, like Massachusetts have a much lower rate of suicide death than Western states like Wyoming. They don&rsquo;t vary much in depression rates or even suicide attempts.The biggest difference is the number of guns in each state.</p><p>This has gotten some public health workers thinking about a method called &ldquo;means restriction.&rdquo;</p><p>The term comes from the U.K., where gas&mdash;sticking your head in the oven&mdash;was once a leading means of suicide.</p><p>&ldquo;Back in the 1960s, they started replacing the source of gas with a non-toxic source, and suddenly suicides in Great Britain went down by a third,&rdquo; Barber said. &ldquo;And so that&rsquo;s when we started realizing means restriction actually can save lives.&rdquo;</p><p>But of course, &ldquo;means restriction&rdquo; with guns in the U.S. is not as simple.</p><p>Gun control usually focuses on homicide. Even laws like waiting periods, or background checks, haven&rsquo;t really been shown to help. That&rsquo;s because people usually don&rsquo;t go out and buy a gun for a suicide.</p><p>What matters is having a gun around. And no one is proposing laws that would get guns out of homes all together.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t see it as being in line what the courts have decided about second amendment rights,&rdquo; said Barber.&nbsp; &ldquo;I mean people can have their opinions about this, but personally, my interest is looking at this and saying &lsquo;how do we save lives right now.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>So Barber&rsquo;s approach is a public health one. Her project based at Harvard School of Public Health is called Means Matters. She encourages programs that work with, not against gun owners. For example, a New Hampshire project trains gun shop owners in suicide prevention.&nbsp; In addition to learning about how to lock up and store a gun, gun purchasers learn about how to keep guns away from suicidal individuals. They also receive resources for mental health support.</p><p>But the politicized debates over gun laws sometimes spill over to these public health approaches too. Dr.&nbsp; Joseph O&#39;Neil used to work as a family doctor. At appointments, he asked about general safety concerns.</p><p>&ldquo;When I was talking about car seats, when I was talking about seatbelt use, I often asked families if there was a firearm in the house. And I had several families take exception to that.&rdquo;</p><p>Some patients were so upset, that he would ask what they considered a personal, non-medical question, that they switched doctors.</p><p>But O&#39;Neill didn&rsquo;t stop. In fact, he expanded his efforts. He became part of the Indiana Violent Death Prevention Project. One of the organizations projects was training clergy in suicide intervention.</p><p>Over a third of clergy members, said they had actually lost someone in their congregation to suicide. The training helped them counsel potentially suicidal individuals.</p><p>&ldquo;Clergy felt more empowered to say by the way I know you feel this way. Is there a gun in the home, would you be willing to get it out of the house,&rdquo; said O&rsquo;Neill.</p><p>But they never got to see how well it worked. Their funding, from the Joyce Foundation, the same private foundation that supports this series, ran out. Other funding for firearm injury research is scarce.</p><p>The Center for Disease Control funds research on causes of death and injury. But since 1996, most of their research on firearms was restricted by congress, who was pressured by the NRA.</p><p>Another problem: The Consumer Product Safety Commision, which regulates household products like toys or cars, doesn&rsquo;t oversee firearms.</p><p>O&#39;Neil said there just isn&rsquo;t the same oversight or information on guns. &ldquo;Since 1975, we&rsquo;ve reduced the number of infants killed in motor vehicle accidents by 75%. For toddlers, 50%. I wish we could do that for firearm injuries.&rdquo;</p><p>But without the research dollars and oversight, he thinks they won&rsquo;t. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s sort of like going without a compass. We don&rsquo;t know where we&rsquo;ve been and we don&rsquo;t know where we are going unless we have the data.&rdquo;</p><p>Both Dr. O&#39;neill and Dr. Barber say that the current political battles over guns are a catch 22. It brings more attention to their issue.&nbsp; But it makes any mention of guns so contentious their work becomes political. And it&rsquo;s hard to talk to gun owners-- the very people most at risk of gun suicides-- without coming across as anti-gun.</p><p>As for Lindsay Van Sickle, the experience of actually losing someone to a firearms suicide has changed the way she feels.</p><p>&ldquo;If you have a gun, even if it&rsquo;s for hunting or protection, there may come a time in your life that you may be depressed. And that may be a means to take your life. So I am definitely more nervous and scared about guns now based on what my dad did to himself.&rdquo;</p><p>She doesn&#39;t&rsquo; know if any policies or programs could have changed what happened to her father. But she does think, at the very least, it&rsquo;s worth us asking the question.</p><p><em>Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/shannon_h" target="_blank">@shannon_h</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 10 Apr 2013 14:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/without-means-role-guns-suicide-deaths-106590