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Another Voice: Community approach is needed to curb gun violence

By Jessica Bauer Walker

Our Buffalo community recently experienced the tragic loss of 12-year-old Badr Elwaseem. As a mother, I send my deepest of sympathies to Badr’s family. This is a tragedy no parent should ever have to endure.

By all accounts, Badr was a kind, helpful, inquisitive child. We can only imagine the man he might have become.

Whenever an act of gun violence occurs in the community, especially when an innocent child is involved, there is a call for justice. I urge our community to employ a coordinated, holistic response to “justice” that prioritizes healing and restoration.

From a policy perspective, preventative strategies can curb the epidemic of ongoing gun violence. According to the American Public Health Association, guns kill more than 38,000 people and cause nearly 85,000 injuries each year.

Buffalo Public Schools’ Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that 59 percent of middle schoolers have been in a physical fight in the past year. These numbers indicate a public health and safety crisis.

Integrated approaches that support communication, coordination and collaboration are key to addressing gun violence. Directly impacted communities who have experienced individual, family, community, racial and historical violence, poverty and discrimination in many forms must be engaged to co-produce solutions by entities with the resources to implement them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” approach. We can apply the science of public health to prevent and treat gun violence as a health issue more than a crime issue.

Social and emotional skills can be taught in schools and other educational settings to help children develop constructive ways to manage stress and anger.

While Buffalo Public Schools, the City of Buffalo and Erie County have made some progress on these fronts, the lack of integration of policy, practice and programs across sectors, and in a top-down and bottom-up way, leaves much room for improvement. We continue to react to problems rather than prevent them.

As a parent and professional in this line of work, I am strengthened by the resilience of my community – especially one as diverse as we have at International School No. 45. The Muslim community has served as an example of strength, solidarity, love and patience for us all.

No individual or entity can do this alone. We must organize across sectors and areas of expertise, with both institutional and grassroots groups as leaders.

Jessica Bauer Walker is executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo.