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Preventing Senseless Violence

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Senseless violence in Tucson. Shocking but not surprising. Our UNITY violence prevention initiative helps stop the violence in U.S. cities and now, once again, our colleagues and staff face it in a too personal way via the shooting in Tucson. As a member of the Tucson UNITY group bravely stated, while personally grappling with losses and friends who had been wounded,

"This tragic event has made it even more apparent how important it is for us to focus on violence prevention here in Pima County. I truly believe that there were many opportunities for prevention to have made a difference in this situation and I know as we learn more we will find things we could have done and need to do to ensure that this and other acts of violence never happen here again."

These were real people. A politician who was like anyone else with a job to do. A judge who swam every day with his neighbors. A young girl who with her family was a member of the Y. Yet we watch -- and make commentary -- from a safe distance, from our armchairs or in front of our computer screens, rather than actively participating in efforts to prevent violence. If we simply dismiss this as the actions of someone who is mentally ill we avoid looking at the responsibility we all have. Of course we have to have to hold individuals responsible for their behavior. At the same time we must create an environment where vitriol is reduced and violence is less likely to happen. We must urge everyone to reflect on what they can do, we must consider what we all must do differently and what we must do together: where our discourse should be softened, where our support should be enhanced.

The kind of violence that happened in Tucson on Saturday happens every day across the country: on our streets, in our schools and in our homes. It might not make headlines, but the terror, loss and tragedy that result are just as real.

We know what to do to make our cities safer; it's simply a question of having the will to make it happen. We need broad strategies to keep people safer, and re-focused resources to make it happen, instead of wringing our hands again in the aftermath of the next crisis. There are cities across the country who are doing it right now: we see the UNITY cities, from Boston to San Diego, pushing back against the overwhelming influence of a culture of violence and increasing social isolation. They're implementing policies and strategies that encourage mentoring for young children, that actively engage communities in building solutions, and that create effective, accessible mental health services. Preventing violence is a civic responsibility, and only together can we translate individual good deeds into community change.

If nothing else, this tragedy should and must mark a time of change. We already know what to do to make our communities safer -- now we need to do it.

UNITY and Prevention Institute extend their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and communities in Tucson, and to all those who have been touched by violence across the country.