The most obvious strategy for addressing the escalating violence and crime in our city and nation is to eliminate the easy access to guns. But this action, although supported to some extent by a majority in the U.S., seems politically unattainable, despite the almost daily carnage experienced by victims, families and communities.

This carnage features plenty of bullets, but no magic bullet exists to mitigate the pervasiveness of violence and gun culture that subverts every fiber of our humanity. We are faced with only tough choices.

We must choose to acknowledge and reckon with the inconvenient but well-documented truth about the extent to which violence resides in the DNA of this country, a sorrowful inheritance evidenced by the violent horrors committed against Indigenous and African people and by the remnants of those historic acts that continue to this day. Acts perpetrated by those sworn to protect and serve, by intimate partners and by stewards of faith have amassed legacies of trauma in our own city and throughout the country. As a result, we must opt to unravel the complexities of violence and crime, to gain a firm grasp on the multiplicity of their causes, e.g., by asking how our children and youth arrive at acceptance of the belief that their lives and those of their peers have no value and that one’s life choices are limited to death or incarceration.

Through the work of Morgan State University’s new interdisciplinary research Center for Urban Violence and Crime Reduction — using the resources of our School of Social Work; School of Education and Urban Studies; School of Community Health and Policy; and the regional and urban planning and sociology and anthropology departments — our institution is taking a definitive stance that the lives of our youth, families and communities are worth the commitment to take on these tough choices.

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The center’s mission is to uncover and elucidate when, where and how the systemic barriers to true understanding of urban violence and crime were created and became ingrained in the natural order of our fledgling democracy, and, worse, became sustained contributors to the escalation of violence and other life-shortening consequences. Briefly said: No voices will be unheard or left out of the center’s work, including the voices of our youth, as we launch listening tours and provide workshops, seminars, webinars and focus groups designed to bring clarity and increased understanding of these complex issues, removing the false stereotypes of Black and brown youth as inherently dangerous people.

The work of this new center will also include an exhaustive effort to engage every sector of our city’s neighborhoods and communities as essential resources for the development of effective strategies for mitigating unacceptable behavior among our youth. This focus acknowledges the historic and current strengths and resilience of our communities, assets that often lack documentation through critical study and research but nonetheless abound, despite the daily perils many communities face. These resources include, for example, churches, fraternal organizations, neighborhood clubs and mentoring organizations that work to provide role models for youth. They comprise individual community members who simply care enough about the lives and well-being of our youth, their families and neighborhoods, to stand in the breach when others are not available.

The applied research that will be the nexus of this center and Baltimore communities will wrestle, atypically and holistically, with the causation of violence and crime; will rely on extensive and sustainable community partnerships and collaborations, and, in the process, develop and test the efficacy of current and new prevention and mitigation models, as well as already successful interventions and programs. Through this process of examination and assessment, the center and its social researchers will advocate for drastic change in systemic policy and practices that continually fail our families and communities, and, ultimately, will demonstrate what works in successfully addressing the escalating violence and crime in our communities.

We are clear in our position that the success of these efforts requires the full commitment of the people most victimized by these acts. We stand in tandem with those affected who are willing to choose to abstain from blaming victims and instead proceed with truth and honesty. We are committed to widening their lens to see the conditions that create and sustain violence and crime and are willing to go the distance this work will no doubt require. No question, the escalation of violence and crime has reached crescendo effect. The time is up for complacency and the status quo. We must act with great intentionality to dismantle the social and political constructs that have allowed violence and gun culture to metastasize and run amuck.

Morgan’s Center for Urban Violence and Crime Reduction will kick off a two-day national conference on urban violence and crime, to be held on our campus, on Oct. 20–21.

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Anna McPhatter, Ph.D., is dean of Morgan State University’s School of Social Work and director of the Center for Urban Violence and Crime Reduction.

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