Testifying in Harrisburg

I was invited to testify today at a hearing on mental health and gun violence before the House Committee on Human Services at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg.

I took part on a panel representing Resources for Human Development, the Philadelphia human services nonprofit corporation which houses the Gun Crisis Reporting Project in their New Beginnings Incubator.

RHDI was at the table by RHD Peer Support Coordinator Eric Larson, center, and David Dan, right, a fellow with Drexel University’s Center for Nonviolence and and Social Justice, and Editor of RHD’s One Step Away newspaper.

My intention was to disrupt inaccurate media narratives and mistaken public perceptions about correlations between mental illness and gun violence. Here’s an excerpt form my statement:

More people have been shot to death in Philadelphia since September 11th than were killed by terrorists on that date. During the Iraq War, more Americans were shot to death in Philadelphia than were killed by enemy forces in Iraq.

These senseless urban killings are not the result of deranged individuals. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey put it very simply to The Philadelphia Tribune last summer: “Much of the violence is sparked by arguments over nonsense.”

Contrary to media portrayals and public perception, research has shown that no more than four or five percent of violent crimes are perpetuated by people with mental illness.

At GunCrisis.org, we look at urban gun violence as a public health threat, an epidemic similar to plagues like cholera and smallpox. And we believe violence, too, can be eradicated.

Residents of cities beset by war or terrorist attacks are never blamed for the violence surrounding them. So it is a mistake to blame members of any urban US neighborhood for the epidemic of shootings that has been imposed upon them.

Certain socio-economic factors make some communities more vulnerable to epidemic violence. For instance, the lack of opportunity, lack of jobs and lack of good schools, coupled with an abundant supply of guns and illegal drugs.

There are many strategies for reducing gun violence. But perpetuating the stigmas and stereotypes of mental illness is not one of them.

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