Race, Health Care and the Law 
Speaking Truth to Power!

VIOLENCE AS A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE

Checkout: Reclamationgallery.com

Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law and
Web Editor

 

Search this site
  powered by FreeFind
 

 
What's New
Awards and Recognitions
 

Chapters

Health Status
Organization and Financing
Access to Health Care
Quality of Health Care
Health Care Research

Bio-ethical Issues
Health and Human Rights
International Issues

The Health Care Challenge

Eliminating Disparities
 

Syllabi

AIDS
American Health Care Law
Bioterrorism 
Health Care Malpractice

Tobacco

Violence and Public Health
 

Surveys

 

Favorite Poetry

Invictus
The Bridge Poem
Still I Rise
No Struggle No Progress
 

Related Websites

Race and Racism
Gender and the Law
Legal Education
Personal Homepage

 

 

VIOLENCE AS A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE 

SLAVERY, SEGREGATION AND RACISM: TRUSTING THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM AIN'T ALWAYS EASY!  AN AFRICAN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE ON BIOETHICS  Vernellia R. Randall , 15 St. Louis U. Pub. L. Rev. 191 -235 (1996)

A young Black male's risk of becoming a homicide victim in the United States is one in twenty-seven, compared with one in two-hundred-five for young White males. The risk of becoming a homicide victim for young Black females is four times higher than for young White females in the White community. It is clear that violence in the African American community is a public health issue. However, even as the words "public health" arise, I have the cloud of the failed federal Violence Initiative to combat. 

The Violence Initiative was a proposed federal initiative to combat violence in the inner-city, supposedly by focusing a more efficient effort toward collective policy making. (217) However, the Violence Initiative was based on two disturbing premises. The first was that much of violent behavior in the inner city may have biological or genetic origins. (218) The second premise was that "factors of individual vulnerability and predisposition to violent behavior exist--factors that may be detected at an early age." (219) To the African American community, the initiative's intervention and problem-solving policy mandate were to focus on the children of the inner city. (220)

[T]he advent of the federal Violence Initiative threatened the personhood and the voice of African-Americans, and more particularly of African-American children, by fostering biological and reductionist theories of genetic linkage between criminally-violent behavior and inner-city youth. Furthermore, it decontextualized and dehistoricized the idea of violence, and devalued the worth of the African-American child by reinforcing gender and stereotypical concepts of African-American women and men. (221)

The federal Violence Initiative failed because it wanted to focus on the people as the cause of the problem. Yet, a public health approach is warranted if it were to take proactive strategies to counteract the powerful economic and political forces of our society that legitimatize these levels of violence. If we want to reduce violence, we will have to deal with the system that produces violence. Unfortunately, more often than not, a public health approach focuses on the human development in our community. 

A focus on human development will necessarily be flawed because any actions or behaviors of the black community will be viewed in the historical context in which the American experience with slavery served to legitimize the image of African Americans as unworthy of respect and bodily integrity, and undeserving of psychological well-being. (222) Furthermore, the images of sex and subjugation in the national psyche further legitimized the attempts to link social conditions with genetic deficiencies. (223)
 

Thus, even though they are free from slavery, Black men and women are bound now by a caste of race and poverty. They are "welfare queens," and members of the "underclass." They have become mothers and fathers of sons who have been labeled an "endangered species," and of daughters who are caught in a cycle of "teenage pregnancy." Subsuming and denying the individuality of African-Americans, these images represent "inherent and permanent inequality . . . apart from any environmental influence." The social value of African-American children has never been recognized, and now their economic value is recognized as marginal or as having ceased to exist. Black people bear children who, by their very existence, become the tools for their own destruction, the murderers of their own spirits. These children become individuals who are seen as obsolete. African-American men and women in the inner city give birth to disposable children. (224)

 

FN217. Sellers-Diamond, supra note 161, at 424. As a result of Dr. Goodwin's announcement concerning the intent and the rationale of the Violence Initiative, he was dismissed as Director of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration and demoted to the position of Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Under the new Clinton Administration, part of the Violence Initiative was canceled as a coordinated effort, amidst continuing doubts as to the integrity and legitimacy of the endeavor. Id. at 429. 

FN218. See generally DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, REPORT OF THE SECRETARY'S BLUE RIBBON PANEL ON VIOLENCE PREVENTION (Jan. 15, 1993); Peter R. Breggin, M.D. & Ginger R. Breggin, The Federal Violence Initiative: Threats to Black Children (and Others), 24 PSYCHIATRY DISCOURSE 8 (1993) (discussing the disadvantages of the federal Violence Initiative). 

FN219. Sellers-Diamond, supra note 161, at 425 (citing DR. FREDERICK K. GOODWIN, ADDRESS AT THE MEETING OF THE NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH ADVISORY COUNCIL 115, 117 (Feb. 11, 1992)). 

FN220. Id. Dr. Goodwin, in one of the first introductions of the Violence Initiative, stated: 

If you look, for example, at male monkeys, especially in the wild, roughly half of them survive to adulthood. The other half die by violence. That is the natural way it is for males, to knock each other off and in fact, there are some interesting evolutionary implications of that because the same hyperaggressive monkeys who kill each other are also hypersexual, so they copulate more to offset the fact that more of them are dying. 

Now, one could say that if some of the loss of social structure in this society, and particularly within the high impact inner-city areas, has removed some of the civilizing evolutionary things that we have built up and that may be it isn't just the careless use of the word when people call certain areas of certain cities jungles, that we may have gone back to what might be more natural, without all the social controls that we have imposed upon ourselves as a civilization over thousands of years in our evolution. 

Id. at 426 (quoting DR. FREDERICK K. GOODWIN, ADDRESS AT THE MEETING OF THE NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH ADVISORY COUNCIL 119-20 (Feb. 11, 1992)). 

FN221. Sellers-Diamond, supra note 161, at 431 (citation omitted). 

FN222. Id. 

FN223. Id. 

FN224. Id. at 453-54 (citation omitted). 

 

Related Pages:
Home ] Up ] Introduction ] Basis of Distrust ] Distrust and Bioethical Issues ] [ VIOLENCE AS A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE ] African American Bioethic Perspective ]
Subsequent Pages:
Home ] Up ]
Previous Pages:
Home ] Slavery, Segregation and Racism ] Medical Experimentation and Informed Consent ] Commerce in Cadavers Open Secret ]
Back Home Up Next

Always Under Construction!

Always Under Construction!

 

Contact Information:
Professor Vernellia R. Randall
Institute on Race, Health Care and the Law
The University of Dayton School of Law
300 College Park 
Dayton, OH 45469-2772
Email: randall@udayton.edu

 

Last Updated:
 03/10/2010

You are visitor number:
Hit Counter
since Sept. 2001

Copyright @ 1993, 2008. Vernellia R. Randall 
All Rights Reserved.