Health Based Approach to Gun Violence

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — An evidence-based outreach program works day in and day out to reduce gun violence in the city of Poughkeepsie, keep the community safe, and educate on their health based approach. SNUG, or GUNS spelled backwards, looks at gun violence from the root causes in order to create lasting change.

“Unfortunately in poor communities of color, gun violence is seen as something as normative, so our goal is to change that perception. We feel like if we can change that perception, as generations come along those generations will see gun violence as not a viable option for conflict resolution,” said Danny Hairston, a coordinator for SNUG.  

According to Hairston, the reactive way in which the media covers gun violence in black and brown communities contributes to this perception that it is normal. He says he would like to see more coverage on SNUG’s shooting responses, as well as more about the underlying issues.

“Every time someone is shot in the city of PO we respond within 72 hours. There is a gathering of individuals to announce the fact that there was a shooting so it’s not brushed under the rug, so that people don’t dismiss it. We are out there lamenting the fact that it happened and urging the community to come out and help us do something about it,” said Hairston.

SNUG’s approach focuses on treating gun violence as a disease, similar as you would with any epidemic. Hairston says the philosophy was actually established by epidemiologist of the world health organization, Dr. Gary Slutkin. He uses the AIDS crisis as an example, “where you had individuals within the gay community work as interrupters,” said Hairston.

“If you knew someone was inflicted with the disease, you provided the right resources and then you educated the community on how to not spread or contract that disease”.

This same logic is how SNUG approaches treating gun violence.

“If someone was shot in the city of PO, [SNUG] gets a call from the police department, my team is dispatched to the scene of the shooting and the hospital to ascertain what the likelihood is of retaliation. If we find that the likelihood is high then we seek to interrupt that by mediating the situation. With individuals who have been shot, if they’re families are affected by violence we provide and help them get in touch with support services,” said Hairston. 

This is then taken a step further with the community, where SNUG is constantly out canvassing and providing material on this health-based approach, all in an attempt to change the norms and educate people on the epidemic.

SNUG is careful to not force their approach on the youth of the community, because Hairston says if you are mandated to do something you’re more than likely not going to do it wholeheartedly. All of SNUG’s participants come out of relationships that are built one on one with outreach workers, who canvass the streets and talk to individuals directly.

“For us it’s having someone who they respect, demonstrate that using a gun isn’t the answer to solving the conflict. The other piece is providing opportunity for them, finding options for them, understanding how it is where they come from. At no time when we’re meeting a potential participant do we condemn them for being involved with a gang or for selling drugs, because when you start looking at the mass hierarchy of needs what happens is you see those two mechanisms are providing the base level of needs. So if you attack those things without dealing with the main cause, you lose the ability to speak to them and to eventually move them away from being involved with hustling,” said Hairston. 

More about SNUG and their resources can be found here.

Danny Hairston at a SNUG march in 2017. Photo credit: Alex H. Wagner/Poughkeepsie Journal.

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