Column: Breaking Detroit’s gun violence cycle

Bridget B. Baker

While watching “Stranger Things 2,” I was relieved that my daughter doesn’t have the powers of telekinesis to shatter all of the windows in our house when she gets overwhelmed. Like many adopted kids who are exposed to traumas during early life, she gets easily overwhelmed and triggered into fight-flight-freeze mode. This can look like the defiance, irrationality and tantrum of a toddler, even though she is an otherwise apparently normal tweenager.

When we stepped out in Midtown for Noel Night this year, I was anxious about whether I could facilitate a successful night for her. Thankfully, we had a beautiful night, not just because she successfully navigated multiple choir performances and friendships, or because it nearly hit 50 degrees in December.

The sidewalks, shops and QLine were bustling with a diversity of people who were all reveling in the shared joys of holiday decorations, the company of loved ones, delicious food and inspiring art. It felt like a special moment for Detroit, and in these divisive political times, a special moment for humanity.

Later came disappointment and sadness with the news about a shooting near the DIA. Now people are left wondering whether this is evidence that Detroit really isn’t safe despite the national headlines about the city’s comeback.

I admittedly know nothing about the 16-year-old shooter, but the incident has renewed talk about two Detroits; the Midtown-downtown corridor, and the one out in the neighborhoods, where poverty rates can reach nearly 36 percent and 87 percent of school-aged children report knowing a victim of gun violence. It is from these latter communities that I encounter people who remind me of my daughter.

Like my daughter, people from these communities have often been exposed to stressors and traumas that are hard to summarize or quantify, but can you imagine not being able to move your family to a neighborhood with less violence? Having to choose between being at home to help your kid learn how to deal with a bad day or being at a second job so your kid has a roof overhead? How about having no hope for your future and no one else to relate to, so you join a gang, or turn to drugs, alcohol or sex to self-medicate?

It is too easy for people to see my daughter’s behavior and deem her as overwhelming or scary, even bad, rather than seeing an overwhelmed and scared kid. Like my daughter, these communities are mislabeled and mischaracterized. In a radio interview, the Rev. Jamie Johnson, who recently resigned as head of the Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships in the Department of Homeland Security, said, “America’s black community [that] has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drugs and sexual promiscuity.” Looking beyond the racism and fallacies of the statement, people tend to focus on behaviors rather than the chronic stress and trauma that exist in these communities.

Like with my daughter, it is too easy to feel daunted by the challenges these communities present, to gaze on the shiny baubles of Midtown-downtown and push away the realities outside this corridor that are difficult to understand. It is easy to think the cycle of poverty and violence can be broken by only creating jobs, reducing pregnancies, imposing curfews or removing guns, drugs, or fill-in-the-blank here.

Like my daughter, people in these communities are not inherently bad or immoral. They have developed ways to survive. They need our love and understanding, rather than our fear and judgment. Like my daughter, they can start to heal and find hope through safe and compassionate relationships.

And where there is healing and hope, there is a chance to break the cycle.

Bridget B. Baker, MS, DVM is a clinical veterinarian and deputy director-Warrior Aquatic, Translational, and Environmental Research (WATER) Lab at Wayne State University.