Like my fellow Coloradans, I sorrow over the recent violence at Denver East High School.
However, how is the Denver School Board’s requirement that police officers come back into the schools as long as they are “appropriately trained in the use of firearms, de-escalation techniques, policing in a school environment, knowledgeable of the school community they intend to serve, and skilled in community policing” any different from what should have already been required before police were phased out in 2020?
We cannot afford to go in circles.
Youth violence is a serious public health, public safety, and social issue which affects the whole of society. We will never end this violence until we address the role that trauma plays in creating it.
Not every traumatized person ends up committing a crime. Nevertheless, the U.S. attorney general’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence found that “exposure to violence…affects approximately two out of every three of our children.” Additional research concluded, “90 percent of juvenile offenders in the United States [have experienced] some sort of traumatic event in childhood, and up to 30 percent of justice-involved American youth…meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder due to trauma experienced during childhood.”
Additionally, studies have shown that many communities in our country experience violence and trauma on levels equivalent to being in a war zone, and that there are more similarities than differences in the traumatic experiences that veterans face during war time and those of individuals living in high-crime neighborhoods. Research indicates that civilians living in high-crime neighborhoods have a higher proportion of individuals experiencing symptoms of PTSD than veterans returning home from war.
The American Psychological Association defines youth violence as any extreme form of aggression with the goal of causing physical harm, injury, or death. And while it might seem reasonable to respond to aggression with the police, the fact is that violence like the East High shootings is not a stand-alone issue. Public safety and public health – which includes mental and emotional health – are inextricably intertwined.
Asking police departments to solve this problem is a disservice to everyone – including the police officers, themselves, who are not trained to respond to a public health crisis.
When I see traumatized teenagers, I see myself. I grew up with five brothers and sisters in a cramped public housing apartment on the south side of Chicago. I got hit by a car when I was 4. I was sexually abused daily by one of my brothers beginning at the age of 8 until I was 12.
I experienced emotional abuse, including being bullied at home and at school. My father was an alcoholic. My mother was in a religious group that was waiting for the imminent end of the world. Although I was reading at age 3 and graduated from high school at 15, she refused to send me to college. She believed that no “worldly” knowledge would be necessary in the new world that God would soon create. Instead, she got me a worker’s permit, and at age 15 I went to work as a full-time secretary in a downtown Chicago office.
At 16 I was pregnant by a man that I met on that job. When I was 19, I stabbed my daughter’s father in a fit of rage and spent the next 14 years in prison for murder. I committed this crime during an emotional breakdown caused by the weight of my childhood trauma.
No police presence anywhere would have prevented my crime. What I needed was help.
People tell me now that they remember that I always seemed “angry” as a child. But no one ever asked me why.
How many crimes could we prevent young people from committing if we recognized the signs of a traumatized child when they were right in front of us? How many suicides might we prevent? And what financial toll does this take on our state and our nation?
The loss that society suffers from youth violence is incalculable.
There is a solution to this problem that addresses it at its core. It is critical that we implement methods of trauma resolution that have been proven to be safe, easily learned, effective, and have permanent results. Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT, is such a method. Despite my own traumatic childhood and subsequent explosive use of violence, I ultimately used Clinical EFT to set myself emotionally free. Clinical EFT has been demonstrated to be effective even with combat veterans who are suffering from severe PTSD. It has been validated by over 100 peer-reviewed studies that demonstrated its efficacy – with no adverse effects. It is also considered an evidence-based practice by the APA.
We need public policies that prioritize trauma resolution – before it explodes into a crime or implodes into suicide. This must begin with a conversation about trauma recognition.
Colorado can lead this conversation if we have the will.
Lisa Forbes, of Northglenn, is the author of “I Can Take it From Here: A Memoir of Trauma, Prison, and Self-Empowerment,” published by Steerforth Press.
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