Adam Hinds : Youth violence addressed in Pittsfield
The shooting involving youth last week was horrendous. There is no reason why kids should settle scores with guns. And there is no reason why rush hour on a bright Monday morning should be dangerous for residents. Once the crisis period ends we must take a hard look at why this happens and identify the community assets and actions that ensure it does not happen again.
After a shooting of this nature minimizing the chance of retaliatory gunfire is a priority. Emotions are high and innocent bystanders are at continued risk. The Pittsfield Police Department acted swiftly to bring suspects off the street during the dangerous first hours that followed.
Pittsfield Community Connection, a city program aimed at addressing youth and gang violence, dispatched two Outreach Workers to work with the friends of those involved. Their goal is to work with the people who are most likely to retaliate with gun violence and their message is clear: let's resolve this, but not with a gun. These Outreach Workers have influence with those involved because of the life they once lived. Both workers are former gang members, both have been shot multiple times, and both have spent a large part of their life behind bars.
There is a lot of fear right now, on all sides. Although they may not admit it, the friends of those involved in Monday's incident are experiencing heightened concern about what happens next. It is my experience that in these moments, the people directly involved might be open to a way out that protects their image. And it might be a credible interlocutor in the form of an outreach worker who can provide that.
Police action will continue to be central to handling the aftermath of this event. Demonstrating immediate ramifications for poor choices deters negative action. Increased use of technology also plays an important role in minimizing follow through on criminal intent.
However once the dust settles from this incident we need to refocus on the underlying causes that lead young men and women to pursue such criminal activities. We must unwind dynamics that lead young men to find value and power in a gun as a masculine badge of honor and its display or use as an effective act of one-upmanship. Violence is learned, and it can be unlearned.
The spectrum of early risk factors related to later criminal offending is wide and differs by individual. Yet they are strongly found at the individual, family, and environmental levels. Important individual factors include temperament and impulsivity. Criminal activities by parents or poor supervision can be big factors as well. Environmentally, socioeconomics and delinquent friends influence behavior.
The broad range of risk factors for future criminal behavior means no single individual or organization can tackle them alone. The entire community must come together and take responsibility. Pittsfield Community Connection has developed Caretaker Councils in targeted neighborhoods to focus existing community resources where preventive support is needed most. But this is only a start and inclusive community action is required moving forward.
A community connected in the effort to reduce violence means everyone is invested in ensuring kids are raised in positive neighborhoods. It means ensuring each child has a fair shot from the start, including through early childhood education. Tackling poverty is urgent. It takes parents prioritizing their children and it means stepping in when you see other kids acting out, whether you are a neighbor, coach, religious leader, or business owner.
Gun violence impacts the entire community. Innocent bystanders can become victims. Public places can become locations for rivals to settle scores. Quality of life is impacted and gun violence can suppress the tax base if residents move or newcomers chose to live outside the city.
While each of us feels powerless to stop this behavior, together we have an impact. Therefore everyone is invited to a community conversation held by Mayor Daniel Bianchi tonight [Monday] at the Morningside Community School at 6 p.m. It is time to discuss these issues as a community and explore what each of us can do.
Adam Hinds is the program coordinator of Pittsfield Community Connection, a program focused on addressing youth and gang violence based in the Pittsfield Mayor's Office and funded through the statewide Shannon grant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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