‘We are a violent culture’: Chattanooga leaders discuss gun violence and mental health

‘We are a violent culture’: Chattanooga leaders discuss gun violence and mental health

To stop gun violence in Chattanooga, efforts need to focus on mental health and other root causes, not just its symptoms, residents and leaders agreed at a city summit Friday.

The event focused on the intersection of mental health and gun violence, bringing together Chattanooga and Hamilton County residents, faith groups, nonprofits and officials to discuss how to reduce gun violence, especially among young people .

“We are a violent culture,” First Baptist Church Pastor William Terry Ladd III said during a panel discussion. “Until we start addressing violence in the pulpit, in classrooms, in police forces, in all aspects of violence – because this doesn’t start with someone shooting a gun in the street. This has been going on for a long time.” forward. “

(Read more: Report: Guns leading cause of death among children in Tennessee)

According to police data, there were 430 shootings in Chattanooga between January 2020 and September 2023, with at least one victim.

Of the 165 shootings in which police were able to determine the suspect’s age, 17 involved people under the age of 18.

The youngest was a 13-year-old boy who shot and wounded a 14-year-old boy in June 2021, the data shows.

Fifty-eight of the victims of these shootings were under the age of 18. The youngest of the shootings in May 2021 was 1 year old.

Chris Sands, the city’s executive director of community safety and gun violence prevention, said Friday that the four main factors the city sees as contributing to youth violence are guns, mental health, education and fatherlessness. Chattanooga has recruited violence interrupters, mentors and school programs to try to combat these factors, Sands said.

Speakers and attendees at Friday’s summit agreed that curbing gun violence among young people will require engagement from all sectors, including cities, schools, churches and families. One attendee told the group he was frustrated by the lack of centralized resources.

“It really does take a village,” Angela Price of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church said after the event. “We have to be careful how we treat each other.”

Many also agree that spiritual leaders from Chattanooga’s faith groups, primarily the Church of Christ, should lead the fight against gun violence.

“I know a lot of people are going to be nervous, ‘He’s talking about Jesus,’ and some of the people here may not be people of faith,” Marcellus Barnes Sr., lead pastor at Grays Pointe Church, said in a statement this week. said during a panel discussion at Five. “But at the end of the day, you can’t deny the fact that there’s a heart problem, period.”

Several speakers also said they feared social media could isolate children and that popular music with lyrics that glorified guns and violence could have a negative impact on them.

in the court

Hamilton County has mental health and drug courts within its criminal court system.

Beka Bohannon, director of the Hamilton County Mental Health Court, said during a panel meeting Friday that many of those facing criminal charges are affected by trauma in their lives, from violence, Dysfunctional families and other sources.

Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are the most common diagnoses among mental health court defendants, Bohannon said. About 3 percent of Americans have schizophrenia, she said, and it’s more common among men.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga shooting followed by man who ran to death, becoming city’s first homicide of 2024)

“What’s missing on the front end of our youth?” Bohannon said. “There is a lot of untapped research our school system can do to identify early diagnosis.”

She said the onset of schizophrenia in men tends to occur between the ages of 19 and 22. Bohannon said the most violent acts in Hamilton County are committed by males between the ages of 18 and 22. Without understanding or being able to talk about this or other mental illnesses, bad behavior may be viewed as criminal behavior rather than a symptom of the illness, she said.

“What parents see is poor grades and aggressive behavior in the home,” Bohannon said. “So law enforcement gets involved because there’s a domestic violence situation.”

Geeta Maharaj, deputy director of Chattanooga’s Office of Community Health and Safety, said teenage black males are also among the most discriminated against in the United States, which means they are less likely to receive mental health treatment.

Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy said she wants to provide better pipelines to the police department for Chattanooga’s children.

“If you want to change the image of police and you want people to feel safe and not afraid of police, then come join us and show us how to do it and be a part of it,” Murphy said during a panel discussion.

General Sessions Judge Alex McVeigh said during the panel discussion that people in court don’t automatically trust the white judge sitting above them in a robe. He and Judge Boyd Patterson said it could take years to build trust in the courtroom.

Contact Ellen Gerst at [email protected] or 423-757-6319.

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