Dear Mayoral Candidate,
Over the course of the almost 20 years that the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute has been in existence, we have been approached numerous times by candidates for public office, asking for our perspective on how they might address the problem of urban violence. Our response is always fairly consistent: building peace requires coordinated efforts across multiple areas and a commitment over time. The conditions that breed violence have been well documented and lead us to know what we need to do to interrupt violence. Research tells us that when our political and economic systems limit the choices and opportunities of people, resulting in high rates of unemployment and poverty, violence results. Alternately, access to quality education and jobs that pay a living wage help to reduce violence and create healthy communities. It requires resources to do this, but the status quo is more costly. We all pay a price for the existence of two Bostons, one where the lives and well-being of residents is valued and one where residents are marginalized and seen as deserving the violence-saturated lives they lead. The costs are both financial and spiritual.
Peace Institute's points for peace:
1. Support primary prevention through peace education in the Boston Public Schools. The annual Boston Public School budget should include funding for the implementation of the Peace Zone curriculum in all elementary schools in Boston -- especially those schools that are located in what the City has identified as Hot Spots.
2. Fund the existing work of the Peace Institute to provide comprehensive support and services to families impacted by murder. We have expertise in this area and provide services to upwards of 80% of the families of murder victims in Boston. Police, hospitals, city officials, churches and other community groups routinely refer families to us, recognizing that we provide crisis management services that no one else does. The City clearly relies on the expertise that we provide and the annual Boston Public Health Commission budget should include funding for these services.
3. Contract with the Peace Institute to develop a consistent, universal protocol for serving families of homicide victims and to provide regular training for first responders – police, victims’ advocates, hospital staff, street workers – in this effort. Make use of our tool: Survivors Burial and Resource Guide: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Regaining Control.
4. Establish a crime victims’ burial fund that would cover burial costs in excess of the $6,500 offered by the Massachusetts Victims of Violent Crime Compensation fund.
The rational for the success of the Peace Institute and the work it does is as follows.
The Peace Institute believes that interrupting violence requires interventions on both individual and systemic levels. We support larger scale efforts to address the systemic conditions that lead to violence such as job creation; we support efforts on a public safety level that involve community policing, alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders, principles of restorative justice and strong re-entry programs with family engagement and community support.
We support public health programs that truly address the health and mental health needs of our communities.
We encourage a large scale shift in mind set and budgetary priorities that might allow us to develop and authorize a Peace Council that would coordinate efforts to build sustainable peace, and the development of a survivors’ council to provide ongoing input and collaboration around the needs of survivors of homicide victims.
The work and the expertise of the Peace Institute is focused on two specific areas which we believe are vital to reducing violence in the city of Boston, and which have been widely neglected by this city. They are: 1. primary prevention of violence through peace education and 2. coordinated services and healing for survivors of homicide victims.
When the Peace Institute was founded in 1994, our work initially focused on peace education within the Boston Public Schools. Maria Montessori, the Italian educator said: “Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education.” In partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health, Lesson One Company, and the Boston Public Schools we developed the model Peace Zone curriculum. This was implemented in over twenty schools in Boston as well as additional schools nationally. The Peace Zone curriculum fosters emotional intelligence and social literacy in children, providing them with tools to help them make positive decisions, avoid risk taking behaviors, resolve conflict and heal from trauma and loss.
The research indicates that programs focused on young children provide cost effective ways to reduce violence in the longer term. Our experience has also demonstrated that the implementation of the Peace Zone reaps immediate benefits within schools – incidents of violent behaviors decrease, the need for disciplinary actions decreases, and depression, which is correlated with exposure to violence, decreases. We know that addressing the emotional and social needs of children in institutional ways is promoting peace whereas the criminalization of problematic behaviors within schools perpetuates the cycle of trauma, marginalization and violence.
We have created a model for responding to the families who survive the murder of a loved one, helping them through the nightmare of homicide and supporting them in a coordinated, caring and compassionate manner through the Serving Survivors of Homicide Victims Providers Network. This model has made Boston a leader in our response to urban violence. Prior to our efforts, there was no clear protocol for providing crisis services to respond to the needs of families traumatized by the murder of a loved one. There still remains much to be done to formalize the universal adoption of this model. Families of homicide victims are an underserved and often stigmatized group. We want to see all of these families treated with dignity and respect at one of their worst and most vulnerable moments. This practice can help to transform the family’s pain and anger into power and action and can help plant the seeds of peace. If we don’t do this, we ourselves are perpetuating the violence.
Some may question how providing services to families after a murder is a way to prevent violence. But we see providing crisis management services to survivors of homicide victims as a cornerstone of our work of building peace: by humanizing the person who was killed and by responding with humanity to the devastated family left behind, we help to interrupt the cycle of violence by reducing the likelihood of retaliation; by addressing grief and the trauma of the murder, we support emotional healing within the family and the health of the community. We know that children who experience hurt are more likely to hurt others; by helping siblings who are left behind, we minimize the chances that these young people will be part of perpetuating the cycle of violence.
Clementina M. Chery
President and CEO