Violence is so pervasive that its effects reach even those who've never been physically hurt.
Indeed, as Atlanta Municipal Judge Clinton Deveaux told an audience Tuesday at the fourth annual Utah Conference on Violence, society as a whole suffers from harmful behavior. Though some people still believe it is, Deveaux said, the influence of violence is not confined to murderers and victims, spouses and batterers or abusive parents and their children.Instead, he said, violence touches everyone in the community, and as such, communities should take a stand to stop it.
"It's the only way we're going to get out of this, and quite frankly, we have to," Deveaux said in his keynote address at the conference held at Utah State University. "Each of us has to be mindful why this is our community's problem, not just the victim's problem."
For one, violence creates a tremendous financial burden for taxpayers who themselves may never have lifted a malicious finger, Deveaux said. According to figures gathered by U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, the average cost of a violent injury in 1992 - fatal or otherwise - was $44,000. This figure was $13.5 billion nationwide that year.
In addition, Deveaux said, violent crimes have increased by 500 percent since the 1960s, and homicide is now the third leading cause of death among children age 5 to 14. For black children, homicide is the leading cause of death.
But, he said, "violence is not a black problem, it is not a Latino problem, it is not a minority problem. It is an American problem."
So how can these trends be reduced?
Community action can be a force, Deveaux said, especially if citizens are willing to set examples of how to deal with anger or frustration without becoming violent. Communities must also provide young people alternatives to being on the street, he said.
In addition, communities can establish parent education and support programs and monitor tele-vision programs to decrease the amount of violence children see.
Deveaux said he was president of the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia before becoming a judge, noting that he deeply respects the First Amendment guarantee of right to free speech.
"But in no way should violence be so protected and pervasive that it controls the way our children think," he said.
The court system can also help to thwart violence by protecting victims and making perpetrators accountable, which he said is a focus in Georgia.
Deveaux spoke highly of mandatory arrests and policies requiring physicians to report incidents of abuse they see, saying these practices send a message to perpetrators that society takes their behavior seriously.
As communities become involved to fight violence, Deveaux said, they should realize the battle won't be easy. "There are no short-term answers, but we have to start now and develop new approaches."
Plus, people need to be committed to making tough choices and be willing to be criticized, not just say and do what others think sounds good, he said.