Mothers In Charge Hosts Conference on Violence's Costs

What is the cost of violence?

"First I would say the cost is incalculable," said Mayor Michael Nutter. "Check on your children. Know where they are and who they associate with. There are some old school things that are still relevant." 

Mothers In Charge led a discussion on violence and its impact during "The Cost of Violence National Conference on Violence Prevention and Behavioral Health." The two day conference, kicked off on Monday at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel and attracted hundreds of attendees from across the country.

During his opening remarks, Nutter recalled growing up in Philadelphia and how the times have changed.

"We used to dodge balls, now we got to dodge bullets," he said.

According to Michelle Breslaver of the Institute for Economics and Peace, violence costs the United States $460 billion per year. Breslaver cites the 2012 U.S. Peace Index while breaking down the cost to Pennsylvanians at $2,934 each year.  

"Access to guns in the U.S. makes confrontation more deadly," said Breslaver.

Nutter stated half of Pennsylvania homicides happen in Philadelphia. Last year, Philadelphia's murder toll was 331. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the police department has done analysis surrounding the city's murders and the highest incidents of murder stemmed from two areas -- arguments and retaliation. 

Ramsey said the police department is working to staff officers in districts to help prevent violence and crime.

"The cost is devastation," said Stacie Wilkins of Philadelphia. Her son Byron Wilkins was murdered at 20 three years ago. "We lose our loved ones and it just doesn't effect the mother. It trickles down to the littlest ones and effects the entire family and community." 

"Violence has a huge impact on mental health and physical health. Violence stunts people's growth," said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., commissioner of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.

Evans suggested those who experience violence may earn less, have less education are are more likely to be homeless. The solution, he proposed, includes getting to victims of violence earlier so "they don't have decades of substance abuse." 

"There's pain waking up every day. For them (politicians) not to do anything until there's a big massacre is wrong. Nothing is done every day. Every life should be important," said Vonda Bowser, a Philadelphia mother of a murdered son.

Bowser hopes Congress will take violence more seriously and the conference will aid in the political conversation.

"There's no price on the cost. There's unlimited potential on a child's life," shared Sonya Cherry of Kansas City, Mo. while Francis Davis of Brooklyn spoke of her three sons being murdered. Another attendee wiped tears from her face as Davis spoke of the hole in her heart violence has caused. 

"I've had to live without my children. It's been a very difficult journey," said Davis. 

Mothers In Charge was started by Dorothy Johnson-Speight 10 years ago after her son Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson was murdered in Philadelphia. The organization has grown and now has chapters in New York City, Wilmington, Chicago and Atlantic City.

"Our children are our life and when that's taken it's hard to make a way. I know I'm making a difference. My son's life is not in vain. He and other victims are smiling down today," said Johnson-Speight.

Preventative measures were discussed as the key to curb violence, and specifically for the need to build structures of peace. Rev. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Church was acknowledged for his community efforts. According to Johnson-Speight, Enon Tabernacle Church has distributed 1.5 million in community reinvestment grants. 

Waller is committed to providing children with an alternative to "the junk that's out there." He is a wrestling coach and is a supporter of athletics and after-school activities. 

"We have to have something for children to do after school. This is nothing new," he said.

"It's cheaper to invest in prevention than treatment," agreed Breslaver. 

For conference information and ticket information to the 10th Anniversary Commencement of Peace Gala on May 7, visit here.

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