Blog Violence & Abuse

Gun violence as a public health issue

Written by Kyle Smith, undergraduate in economics and computational biology at University of Rochester and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Poli Rijos, LCSW noted early in her talk this past week that gun violence is a devastating commonality among the otherwise varied and diverse clients she has worked with as a clinical social worker. This upsetting truth staunchly underscored the depth and ubiquity of the issue, and gave Rijos an incredibly informed ability to speak on the subject of gun violence in St. Louis.

Strikingly, her tone of determination, and optimism, never wavered while discussing such an entrenched and potentially overwhelming problem. Rather, she balked at the idea of passiveness, instead highlighting areas in which active effort could make measurable improvements.

This mindset has made Rijos an effective coordinator for the Gun Violence Initiative at the Institute for Public Health since its conception in 2015. The initiative has since partnered with the United Way to help launch the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Collaborative, a group of 36 St. Louis partner organizations working to alleviate and eradicate the burden of violent crime for those most vulnerable.

St. Louis Crime Tracker Map

This necessary effort seeks to structure a response that is as ubiquitous as the problem it aims to disassemble. It is a coordinated commitment from stakeholders across domains, a framework that is greater than the sum of its parts: as resolute, steady, and self-supporting as it is welcoming to those who need it most. As I see it, the core tenets of Collective Impact, a lauded framework in public health, are operating in this collaborative with immense and pointed clarity.

One of the most impressive aspects of Rijos’ presentation was the inspiration she exuded – in a way transmitting the very motivation that she derives from the community she serves. For this reason, and for the impressive breadth of the organizations that make up this network, I am excited to follow the meaningful work that is certain to emerge.

For more information on per-capita crime rates throughout St. Louis, check out the St. Louis Crime Tracker provided by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.