Cohesive Communities Can Effectively Combat America’s Gun Violence Public Health Crisis

Excerpt of statements by Stacy Spell, program manager of Project Longevity, at gun violence panel discussion at Yale University, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

A panel convened at the Yale School of Public Health on Nov. 27 addressed the topic of Gun Violence as a public health issue. The forum was organized by three public health students who wanted to promote dialogue about the role public health professionals can play in addressing gun violence in America.
Panelists included academics and community advocates, including Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, a gun control advocacy group formed after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Murray asserted that evidence-based research and other support from public health professionals is critical to the continued push for stricter gun laws at the national, state, and local level.
Another community speaker was Stacy Spell, a former New Haven police detective and program manager of Project Longevity, a community-based organization working to reduce violence in Connecticut’s major cities. In this excerpt recorded and produced by Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, Spell talks about the importance of resilience and building community cohesion in the wake of gun violence.
STACY SPELL: For those who live in the inner city, who are poor and of color, they recognized that gun violence is a public health issue a long time ago. I once worked as a community organizer for Community Builders, which is in Kensington Square, a short distance from here. A few years ago, a 2-year-old was shot on the front porch. And speaking to the neighbors, and speaking to the children, I would say, “Do you come outside?”And they would say, “No, we’re not allowed to come outside. We’re not allowed to ride our bikes. We’re not allowed to sit on the porch. We’re not allowed to go to the store unaccompanied.” The fact that the rate of gun violence we have throughout the nation and that we don’t remove our blinders and say this is a public health issue, is wrong. I think for those of us that don’t wear blinders or have scales on our eyes, we have to inspire those elected officials to pull their heads out of the sand and look around them. Look at the communities and how they’re being affected.
One of the greatest tragedies that happened in our country happened right here in the state of Connecticut. We have incidents of violence throughout the inner city, whether it’s Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury. What more needs to be said that it’s a public health issue? When young children are plagued by post-traumatic stress syndrome? When their health is impeded because they’re not allowed to have healthy social development from being able to play outside, or to interact?

We, that don’t have those scales, we have to speak loudly, we have to speak with a loud voice, a loud collaborative voice, because the power is not in just my loud voice. I have a loud voice – I’m a bad man by myself! But guess what? When we put the voices of all those who are here in this room, and we speak collectively, with the same message, they have to listen. So it’s about building coalitions. For Project Longevity, it’s about creating those coalitions, bringing more people to the process. And we just have to speak louder and more forceful and we have to hold our elected officials accountable because they are doing us a disservice by turning a blind eye.

Marginalized communities view themselves as under-valued, not listened to, ignored, and the key word I will use is “empowerment.” When you empower a community, when you link arms with them – and I’m not asking that you bring resources in – but when you help them to strengthen their voice, add to their narrative because those incidents are happening every day – but they’re viewed as not of value – we have to find a way to empower communities so they can right the wrongs for themselves.

In my community, I can only speak from my past experience. My past experience has always been, let us not wait for the cavalry to come. We are the cavalry! If we wait for the cavalry to come, most of us are going to be slaughtered. So we have to have some self-determination. And having groups link up with you, help you define your narrative, giving voice – or at least credence – to those communities that might be overlooked – “oh, they’re just black and brown, and this has been happening to them forever.” Like I said before, for those of us who don’t have scales on our eyes, and don’t have blinders on, it’s time for us – time for others – to lend a hand and become part of the process. You know, it’s always been said, “Either you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem.” If we know this is happening and we just let it go on day after day, year after year, and we do nothing but sit by on the sidelines, are we doing anything to help the problem?

So, it’s building stronger coalitions, giving credence to under-served communities, helping to empower them so that they can empower themselves. Last thing I’ll say is one of the committees I work with is we have a group that’s made up of quite a few different disciplines from the Yale School of Medicine and the School of Management where we have been working for about seven years and building community cohesion in the aftermath of gun violence. So, you’ll notice naturally in communities where there is a natural disaster – whether it’s a flood, a snowstorm, a hurricane – communities have a way of being resilient on their own. An average New England snowstorm – you’re shoveling your walk, your neighbor’s out there and you help your neighbor and then you help the neighbor across the street – that’s community cohesion – the stronger we make communities cohesive. And for Project Longevity, we’re weaving a fabric where together we will save lives. The more people we bring into it, the stronger the fabric, the stronger the impact we’re going to have on the violence, especially violence prevention. Let’s not wait until it happens; let’s get ahead of it. So, it’s all those factors for marginalized communities, and I can’t speak enough on it.

For more information about Project Longevity, visit

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