Violence interruption programs, used in cities throughout the United States, provide a proven, community-led, and cost-effective solution to reducing gun violence. Whereas police depend on force and violence to do their jobs, often making things worse, these programs use community engagement to stop lethal violence before it occurs, prevent its spread by interrupting ongoing conflicts, and develop community norms toward avoiding violence. In many cases, violence interruption programs include peer-based mentorship, job training, and other community support designed to help people overcome the oppressive socioeconomic inequality that breeds violence in certain communities.
America’s exceptionally high rate of gun violence—there are nearly 13,000 gun homicides every year—reflects deep economic, social, and political failures. Homicide rates are highest in economically depressed communities, and the people most impacted as perpetrators and victims are economically isolated, cut off from educational, housing, and employment opportunities because of race discrimination, poverty, and mass incarceration. These forces have led to gaping racial and class disparities in exposure to violence, with Black youth at especially high risk: The homicide rate for Black male youth between the ages of 10 and 25 years old is nearly 20 times higher than for white male youth.
But gun violence is also a public health problem, amenable to public health solutions.