Blog: Transforming the impact of public violence

  • 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.

  • Defining public violence helps to find solutions

    January 24, 2017
    By Jim Skillington

    More than 70 percent of Americans have told pollsters that they believe public violence is an inevitable part of life and nearly as many worry that a member of their family will be injured in such an incident.

    But what is public violence?

    The Center for Public Violence Recovery defines public violence as a random violent act that traumatizes a community. Public violence may include such incidents as those involving guns, knives, vehicles, fights, or hate violence.

    Public safety and other local government agencies are expected to assure the community becomes resilient after incidents of public violence. But without advance collaboration with local community organizations including faith leaders and human services nonprofits, a community can never really become resilient following incidents of public violence.

    Without advance planning, the current approach often results in misinformation, fragmentation of services, unaddressed trauma in residents and first responders, recurring cycles of violence, and a growing sense of hopelessness.

    The Center is proposing a new framework and protocols designed to create a Whole Community response to public violence. When a community is prepared to care for itself following public violence, studies have shown that the psychosocial health of each individual is improved. To learn more about how your community can improve its response to public violence, email the Center at [email protected]

  • 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.