February 24, 2017

Violence is generally framed as a social and moral problem. We tend to see people who commit acts of violence as criminals with moral failings or at least victims of their social and economic circumstances. However, Dr. Gary Slutkin, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health and founder of Cure Violence, thinks the way to stop violence might be approaching it like an infectious disease. He talks with us about how a public health frame on violence could help treat – and possibly even cure – violence in our communities.

Three Takeaways:

  • After years fighting epidemics overseas, Slutkin returned to his hometown of Chicago and noticed that violence in urban neighborhoods was spreading along a very familiar pattern. “I just began to look at graphs and charts and maps like any epidemiologist would,” he says. “It was behaving the same way as other infectious disease problems, and so it was interesting enough to say, ‘What if we look at this in that way and began to treat it in that way?’” 
  • When fighting disease outbreaks, public health workers will often employ local partners who promote healthy practices in a manner their peers can relate too. Slutkin’s group, Cure Violence, similarly uses “interrupters” – locals who often have a history of gang involvement – to intervene and disrupt violent acts before they happen. 
  • Slutkin says that, like a disease, acts of violence need previous cases in order to spread. “[If] there isn’t exposure to violence, then you don’t get violence,” he says. “It’s the same thing if you have housing projects and there’s bad circumstances and crowding and nutrition’s bad, but no one brings in AIDS or no one brings in the flu, it doesn’t just spontaneously come.”

More Reading:

Support for our coverage of environmental issues and sustainable communities comes from The Kendeda Fund.

violence, epidemiology, Culture, Gary Slutkin, Kara Miller

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