Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey wants to address youth gun violence as public health crisis

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Our kids are dying, shot and killed at the hands of other kids.

Youth gun violence is out of control. It’s destroying families and ripping apart communities.

Now, in the final part of our “KDKA Investigates” series, we explore the solutions for ending the surge of youth gun violence in the region.

While past solutions have failed, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey is proposing a different approach. He said we need to address the violence as a public health crisis and treat it as if it were a disease.

“If we look at violence like we look at COVID-19 and understand this is a pandemic that needs to be addressed, then we can get to a solution,” Gainey said.

Gainey wants more cops walking the beat and a team of city social workers dealing with addiction, homelessness and domestic violence. But he said the problem goes beyond law enforcement and the city’s resources.

He’s looking to bring together the universities, hospitals driven, foundations and corporations to address what he calls the roots of trauma: poverty, disinvestment, lack of education and lack of opportunity that has young people to crime and violence.

“If you’ve been traumatized, you’re likely to traumatize somebody else. So, we’ve seen that cycle of violence become a driver of gun violence,” said Josh Fleitman with CeaseFirePA.

The aim is to break that cycle by funding programs like that of trauma specialist Dr. Staci Ford. She heads a team of outreach workers, called interrupters, who intervene and try to prevent violence before it happens.

“We step up. We step in. We’re not afraid to reach out to these youth. It’s about being able to connect and have resources you can link a youth to. Taking kids on field trips and supporting them, teaching them what is right and how to deal with their emotions and frustrations,” said Ford.

The initiative would try to address the mental health problems of the young, which include drug and alcohol addiction, by providing psychological and emotional support to them and their families and putting more counselors in schools and community centers.

“I think mental health is what we need to address as a society. We have to address it in the ways that need to be addressed. I think people need counseling,” said Street Outreach Coordinator Richard Garland.

Ultimately, the aim is to redirect youth and provide a pathway to opportunity. But Garland concedes it won’t work if there isn’t buy-in from the community and a concerted effort to change the culture of violence glorified in rap songs and movies.

“We have to reeducate our kids. We have to reeducate our families,” Garland said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Gainey and Pittsburgh are not alone. This public health approach is being initiated in cities around the country now plagued with similar levels of violence.

However, the jury is still out on whether this will work where other measures have failed.

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