Based on an exploratory review of homicides that occurred in Leon County from 2015 to 2020, it was determined that both homicide victims and offenders were overwhelmingly young Black males. Eighty-six percent of victims and 81 percent of known offenders were male. The 15-24 age group was the highest for both victims and offenders, followed by 25-34. Seventy-five percent of victims and 81 percent of known offenders were Black. These findings were not unique when compared to other published data.[i]
Unlike other leading causes of death, such as cancer or heart disease, gun violence disproportionately impacts children and young adults. Firearms were the leading cause of death in 2019 for American children and teens ages 1-19 and young adults ages 20-24. Firearms are the leading cause of death among Black men through age 39.[ii] With homicide being a leading cause of death for individuals of a specific sex, age range, and race, this problem is more than an enforcement issue alone. This presents a community health crisis stemming from drivers such as: educational deficits, early exposure to the criminal justice system, lack of a stable family/home environment, mental and behavioral health, substance abuse, poverty, etc.
When treated as a public health problem, using a scientific epidemiological approach, homicides can be prevented. It will take an ALLin community working together with focus, fairness, and a balanced approach of prevention, intervention, enforcement, and ongoing assessment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, the public health approach is a four-step process that is rooted in the scientific method and draws on a multi-disciplinary science-base.
The first step is to define and monitor the problem by understanding the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how” associated with it. The second step is to identify risk and protective factors by determining what factors protect people or put them at risk for experiencing or perpetrating violence. Third, strategies should be developed, implemented and tested using an evidence-based approach. Findings from research literature and available data should be used to develop prevention and intervention strategies. Once implemented these strategies should be evaluated to determine their effectiveness. The fourth and final step is to assure widespread adoption of the strategies. Strategies that are shown to be effective should be implemented more broadly and continually assessed.
Long-term sustainable strategies and investments are needed to address the underlying socio-economic issues linked to violence. Although it is tempting to set overarching goals such as reducing violent crime in general, goals should be targeted, achievable, and measurable. Focusing on smaller areas (specific people, specific places, and specific behaviors) is most effective. Actions that are most likely to make the greatest immediate impact on homicides and non-fatal shootings in Leon County must be taken now, while we work together as a community to address the larger systemic causes of crime and violence.
[i] Leon County Sheriff’s Office Anatomy of a Homicide Report: https://www.leoncountyso.com/allin-leon/anatomy-of-a-homicide
[ii] The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. A Public Health Crisis Decades in the Making, A Review of 2019 CDC Gun Mortality Data. Retrieved from https://efsgv.org/wp-content/uploads/2019CDCdata.pdf.