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If Violence Is Contagious, Then What Is The Cure?

Contrary to its pop culture rep as a hipster haven, Brooklyn has the unpleasant distinction of being the bloodiest of New York City’s five boroughs. According to a 2013 NYPD report (for the year 2011), 36 percent of all homicides in New York City occurred in Brooklyn.

In 2012, a group of engaged citizens formed Man Up!, a grassroots group designed to stop gun violence in its tracks. The results have been impressive: No shootings or killings for the past year.

The group’s strategy? Treat gun violence as a public health issue and react to it the same way as a disease epidemic. In layman’s terms, this means the members of Man Up! go into the most volatile areas (unarmed), mediate problems, and offer alternative options for those on a dangerous path.

These “violence interrupters,” as they are coined, are often former gang members or people whose lives have been touched by gun violence. This gives them the credibility and access to be effective on the ground.

The members of Man Up! have been trained by the Cure Violence Initiative, a 13-year-old organization founded by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin. After years of working abroad on disease prevention campaigns, Slutkin returned to the United States in the late ’90s and noticed similarities in dispersion patterns when looking at violent crimes on a map.

“The greatest predictor of a case of violence is a previous case of violence,” Slutkin said at this year’s TEDMED event. Violence, he said, tends to spread the same way as influenza: One person catches it and spreads it among others. Using the same epidemic strategies that helped reduce AIDS cases in Uganda, Cure Violence saw an 67% decrease in shootings during its first year.

Since 2000, the initiative has spread to more than 20 cities worldwide, including New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Baltimore. On average, cities using the Cure Violence model have seen at least a 41% drop in shootings and killings.

“This is good news,” Slutkin said, “because it give us the opportunity to replace some of these prisons with playgrounds, and turn these neighborhoods back into neighborhoods.”

The highly praised independent film, “The Interrupters,” premiered in 2011, showcasing community efforts to end gun violence in inner-city neighborhoods. Watch the trailer below. 

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