Missouri lawmakers are looking at a measure to declare youth violence a public health epidemic. The proposal from Representative Bruce Franks Jr. also calls on the General Assembly to support the establishment of statewide trauma education.
The St. Louis Democrat’s legislation cites multiple experts, organizations and government agencies that study the issue and offer recommendations.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 1.56 million U.S. adults have been the victims of violence carried out by individuals between 12 and 20 years old. Two Surgeon Generals, C. Everett Koop in 1985 and David Satcher in 2000, have declared youth violence as a public health epidemic.
Franks says society has failed to address the problem that troubles many less affluent communities.
“We haven’t truly identified youth violence for what it’s for,” said Franks. “And that is a public health epidemic, especially when we talk about economically distressed communities, communities with a lack of resources, no matter what their community looks like. And we’re talking about violence as a whole, not just murder.”
The measure notes the peak years for violent youth offenses are between the ages 15 and 18 when students are in high school. It cites a 2000 surgeon general’s report that calls for violent youth to be placed into intervention programs rather than incarceration.
At a committee hearing, Franks said there’s a personal reason why his bill also has a provision to designate June 7th of every year as “Christopher Harris Day”. “In 1991 Christopher Harris, my brother was killed at nine-years-old while outside playing,” Franks said.
Christopher Harris died while playing in front of his house when a drug dealer used him as a human shield in a gunfight with a rival.
In addition, the measure’s text also states that youth suffer from trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from violence in their community or against a loved one. Sara Baker, the legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, told the committee that the education system has failed to accommodate students afflicted with trauma.
“We recognize that when you have a student who comes to school who has experienced violence in their home community, they’re not ready to learn,” said Baker. “They’re not a whole person. And we don’t have schools or systems that are equipped to deal with those individuals when they’re coming into a school setting. And we don’t have the resources available to those students.”
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which endorsed the measure, was the only organization or individual to speak at the hearing.
The legislation proposed by Franks is known as a concurrent resolution, which requires the approval of both the state House and Senate. Such proposals generally urge action on the part of a legislative body. Franks resolution includes language for it to be sent to the Governor for his approval or rejection.
Democratic Senator Jamilah Nasheed announced Thursday on the Senate floor that she was filing a companion resolution in the Senate at the urging of Franks. Nasheed also referenced Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school when she said gun violence is a health epidemic.