Missouri lawmakers have passed a measure that would declare youth violence a public health epidemic.
The proposal was introduced during a House committee hearing in February by Representative Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis.
After the lower chamber approved legislation, it was championed in the Senate by Democrat Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis, who shepherded the Concurrent Resolution through her chamber Wednesday.
She said lawmakers need to realize that the state is plagued with youth violence.
“It is our duty to declare as a state youth violence as a public health epidemic,” said Nasheed.
Among other things, the legislation calls on the General Assembly to support the establishment of statewide trauma education. It 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.
While presenting the resolution before the House committee in February, Franks said 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 specifies that 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.
In addition, the resolution’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, spoke at the earlier House committee hearing, where she said 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 measure also includes a provision to designate June 7th of every year as “Christopher Harris Day”. Harris was the brother of Representative Franks, who died while playing in front of his house when a drug dealer used him as a human shield in a gunfight with a rival.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Nasheed referenced a recent streak of deaths in St. Louis while asking her colleagues to embrace the resolution.
“11 murders in 11 days,” Nasheed said. “I don’t know how many of you know that we have been seen in the city of St. Louis as the murder capital.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the 11 deaths occurred between April 26th and last Sunday. The homicide total in the city so far in 2018 is 57, which is three more than the same period last year.
With the Senate’s unanimous vote of 29-0 Wednesday, the legislature has passed the resolution which calls on lawmakers to take action to curb youth violence. The measure includes language for it to be sent to the Governor for his approval or rejection.
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