by Irv Katz, President and CEO of the National Human Services Assembly
Crime has fallen in recent years, but, judging by the horrific shootings that seem to take place almost daily in every conceivable kind of venue, it doesn’t feel like it. As a people, we have gone from the outrage over the atrocities at Newtown and Aurora (and all those that preceded them and the daily shootings in gang-ridden neighborhoods) to a sense of not yet resignation, but certainly of war weariness. We’re not as shocked or horrified when these events take place and that is terrifying.
After the siege at the Columbia, Maryland mall this past weekend, the Mid-Atlantic media was awash with stories and speculation about the shooter and the incident. But the media deals with the immediacy of each situation and fail to examine the big picture. In journalistic jargon, they “bury the lead” and the lead is, “Yet Another Young Man With Firearms Wreaks Havoc: (#) Dead, (#) Injured, Millions Terrorized.” Yes, we need to know the motive (if there is one) in each particular circumstance but wouldn’t good journalism delve into the phenomenon and hold public officials and all of us accountability for its persistence?
This very much relates to our efforts to reframe human needs/services/development so that the public better understands and values them. As my colleague and our EVP, Karen Key, points out, the media misses the mark in focusing primarily on what is wrong with the individual who commits a shooting but overlooks the phenomenon. That phenomenon is about more than firearms; it is a phenomenon of (primarily) young men who are off the track of society, perhaps criminally or psychologically, who are not sufficiently connected with community and family to be detected and who quite likely lacked a developmental course that could have placed them on positive track or in treatment.
The narrative that reflects what we know in the human services/human development field is about connectedness, positive child and youth development, identification and mental health services, as well as keeping guns out of the hands of people who are disturbed or criminal, which, again, goes to identification.
If your organization represents some aspect of the alternative, better path for these disturbed individuals, I encourage you to weigh in. Newtown looked like a watershed moment in this horrible national phenomenon, but the urgency passes and policy-makers are gridlocked. We can and should enlighten and change the narrative.