THE BLOG
04/30/2013 03:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2013

Working on Healing More Important Than Adding Police

NBC's Rock Center recently showed Camden the way that most of the world sees it: dangerous, rundown and hopeless. The problem with this vantage point is that it is only the surface level.

Had NBC dug a little deeper, it would have been able to identify the more deeply rooted problems, which are far removed from being solved by putting more cops on the street.

When most people think about Camden's violence, they consider the record-breaking murder numbers and all the innocent lives lost. The acute violence creates safety issues for everyone living in Camden. People feel unsafe and safety clearly is a paramount concern.

However, because our city is decimated by poverty, safety can't be addressed solely by focusing on crime. That's because the emotional, psychological and physical safety issues that poverty creates give rise to the behavior we call crime.

Treating criminal behavior by itself without understanding what's causing the behavior will not result in a lessening of crime, according to current research.

The real problem lies further below, with murder just the tip of a bloody iceberg. Before we can end the murders, we need to recognize, address and begin to heal how violent behavior and murder originates.

Poverty is easily the city's largest fundamental issue. No amount of law enforcement can fix the fact that the citizens of Camden are destitute.

Consider the children who arrive at school hungry -- after worrying if they're even going to get there safely.

Consider that half the children in Camden live below the poverty line

The median age of Camden residents was 27.2 during the last full U.S. Census Bureau report -- incredibly low compared to the United States average of 35.3.

This means that young people are attempting to fend for themselves, yet lack the means or ability to do so. Acting out often is the product of the tremendous amount of chronic stress they experience.

This acting out is rarely handled appropriately.

Rather than being told to simply knock off the behavior, or being asked "Why are you doing that?" youth need to be questioned about the underlying causes of their behavior. They need to be asked, "What happened to you that causes you to act this way?"

It's important to not immediately seek a solution, but to begin a conversation to understand these youth and the factors contributing to their problems. Often, these youth have seen, heard and experienced things due to poverty that impact their everyday life, while also changing their biology and response mechanisms.

These youths undergo trauma from a young age, and it, unfortunately, has a lasting impact that's not easily reversed. Even if we are able to get the poverty under control, there will still be thousands of people who are undergoing PTSD from their past experiences.

And if we remove these underprivileged citizens from this environment, they will still carry the trauma and experiences of Camden with them. These youth need more than a bandage; they need to heal, and healing is an ongoing process.

Trauma has to do with a loss of safety, an ongoing state of fear and a constant alertness to maintain survival instincts. Hopelessness and powerlessness are associated with symptoms of trauma in youth, and these all manifest themselves strongly in Camden's young people who live day-to-day.

Camden is suffering -- the city is comparable to an open wound or a burning building. However, this is a building that has been ablaze for years. The damage is severe, in need of immediate attention and the solution requires extraordinary effort and compassion.

For the healing to begin, the topic of poverty needs to stop being taboo. A conversation needs to begin regarding its impact on the city -- and how to begin changing the unfortunate circumstances.

We need a solution that focuses on trauma and mental health, not public safety. Changing the police force will not work; addressing the anguish and trauma embedded in the community will.

Camden needs to get back to the basics. Safety begins by looking at trauma, poverty and mental health, not the police force.

Subscribe to Breaking Alerts.
Don’t miss out — be the first to know all the latest news.