The Lifelong Impact of a Life of Violence

Once again, the United States is dealing with the aftermath and violent unrest of a fatal police shooting.  This one in our beloved city, in broad daylight, with dozens of witnesses.  There are too many social, racial and socio-economic issues to address in one essay.  Too many to address in one newscast, newspaper article, protest, political ad or town hall meeting.  

Needless to say, the death of Walter Wallace is devastating to his friends and family. A loss every parent fears, especially in black neighborhoods where the systemic racism in our country is seen and felt with horrifying magnitude; where most boys do not expect to live past 30 years old, where high schools see a graduation rate of less than 70 percent and where far less than 50 percent of graduates end up earning a higher degree.  Walter Wallace’s neighborhood is a dangerous place and his death reminds us that abolishing the police isn’t necessarily the answer.  The reason Wallace was killed goes far beyond the actions, inactions or misjudgment of the police.  We all have Wallace’s blood on our hands. And we all bear some responsibility for the precarious, life-threatening situations police are confronted with every day; not to mention the brown and black children who through no fault of their own, walk outside their homes with a prophetic target on their backs.

We need more community resources, more community training and frankly, more empathy for all of the children who have been victims of poverty and racial disparity since the day they were born.  Children who grow up having the same challenges Wallace did. And so, the cycle continues. Just as Wallace likely had, children of his neighborhood witness violence on a daily basis…both from the police and from each other.  This has been PROVEN to have a profound negative impact on their future decision making and general well-being.  But I think we can all agree we didn’t need an expensive study to confirm that fact, yet presenting the facts, as obvious as they may be, is my duty as an attorney and an advocate.  So here you go: 

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations of its kind.  It was conducted in California from 1995-1997 and examined child abuse and household dysfunction and how they impacted the adult lives of children.  The study concluded that multiple ACEs significantly increased the likelihood of (but not limited to) depression, anxiety and substance abuse. 

In 2012, the Institute for Safe Families in Philadelphia expanded that study to include urban communities and ANY violence taking place outside the household.  Let’s take a step back.  Imagine asking a 7-year old, “do you feel safe in your neighborhood? Have people in your neighborhood looked out for each other and stood up for each other? Can they be trusted?  Have you ever seen or heard someone being beaten up, stabbed or shot in real life?”

OK pause.  I’m going to borrow a page from the movie “A Time To Kill” and say imagine asking YOUR 7 year-old those questions?  Let’s keep going. “Have you ever been treated badly or unfairly because of your race or ethnicity?  Have you been shipped off to different foster homes because strangers have deemed your home unsafe?”  Not exactly after school dinner conversation for most of you reading this. 

As frightening and as perhaps, far removed you find your own family from this study, what it found was adults with four or more adverse childhood experiences, including experiences in their community, have higher rates of substance abuse, suicide attempts and mental health conditions.  Throughout his childhood, Wallace was in and out of legal trouble.  Judges regularly ordered he receive mental health treatment.  The criminal defense attorney for Wallace’s family said Wallace was prescribed Lithium, a drug primarily used to treat bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.  That attorney has stated Wallace’s family called for help 3 times that day because the 27-year old was in distress.
These were not unique circumstances.  According to experts, one in four fatal police shootings involve adults with untreated mental illness. What does all this tell us? The violence children experience and witness in their communities can be just as traumatic as when it occurs in their own household.  This is a risk not just to entire families, but to entire neighborhoods, entire communities and entire police departments.  None of which have enough knowledge, resources or training to break this brutal cycle

We need to do better. Until the same resources are applied to all of our communities, status quo will be King and status quo has proved deadly.  Real change isn’t a single process elimination.  It isn’t one X factor or a quick fix.  Real change isn’t about one election or one candidate, or the triumph of a singular idea.  We have to do this together, as a community and as human beings.  We owe that to our children.  

You can learn more about the cited studies here: