Gun violence in Chicago is an issue the city confronts every week, and the conversation about how to curb that violence is ongoing.
While the Chicago Police Department is increasing community policing, a new behavioral health task force on the West Side is convening to address trauma as a root cause of violence.
“We know that untreated trauma eventually leads to potential violence in a community. Some research studies show that one of the most prominent symptoms of trauma is anger,” said Rashad Saafir, the chair of the newly formed West Side Behavioral Health Task Force. He’s also the president and CEO of Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center and director of the Westside Community Triage and Wellness Center.
Trauma exists on both an individual and community level, said Obari Cartman, the program director for Real Men Charities, an organization that integrates mental health, culture, arts and wellness into programming for Black men and their families on the Southeast Side. Cartman said slavery, segregation, red lining and disinvestment are all instances of historical trauma.
“I often lead with that,” Cartman said. “Not so much with ‘this is what happened to you,’ but ‘this is what happened to us as a people,’ and that helps remove some of the shame. The burden of brokenness. The feelings of deficiency, to make room for the rest of the work as individuals.”
Last week, the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force released a report highlighting decades of disinvestment communities of color have faced.
“In virtually every measure — from economic and food security to access to broadband and mental health services — Chicago’s communities of color are faring the worst, a wrong that must be righted with meaningful transformation and change,” the report states.
The report includes a 17-point plan for recovery after COVID-19. Notably, mental health — specifically, addressing new and old traumas — is at the top of its priorities.
“We know that we’ve had trauma in our communities for generations now, and we have a lot of young people who have been exposed to trauma, so there’s a cycle of trauma and violence that is inextricably connected,” Saafir said.
Given that there is still a stigma, for some, about mental health, treatment must come from community-based providers, Saafir said.
“All too often we look outside of our own communities for assistance and for the answers when we have people who are there on the ground every day who are well known,” Saafir said. “We need to make sure that we’re reaching out to the right people and the right places to do this work.”