What To Know Today

Surgeon general: We must all work together to tackle our youth mental health crisis. The pandemic exacerbated an already “devastating” situation for young people in the United States, according to a public advisory from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. In a 53-page report, Murthy names “climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the opioid epidemic and gun violence” among the challenges affecting American youth even before the pandemic strained their communities and weakened access to social services including mental health care. “Our obligation to act is not just medical — it’s moral,” Murthy notes in the introduction. The report offers numerous recommendations to public health officials, advocates, government, educators, media, and other stakeholders, and urges the entire nation to take action. A few highlights:

  • Minimize lethal means access for people at risk: That includes guns and other things that can facilitate self-harm: “If you choose to keep firearms in the home, ensure that they are stored safely: unloaded and locked up (e.g., in a lock box or safe).” 
  • Expand suicide prevention, mental health crisis services: Implementing the national 988 mental health crisis and suicide hotline and increasing trauma-informed care for at-risk children were among the specifics.
  • Utilize credible messengers and trusted community partners: The report points to community-led interventions like hospital-based violence intervention programs to help mitigate risk factors for violence.
  • Call on journalists to report responsibly on trauma and mental health: In addition to striving for accuracy and sensitive coverage, Murthy writes, media should investigate potential solutions and include “positive messages and stories of hope and healing” in coverage of crises like natural disasters or mass violence.

[If you are having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.]

Should the prosecutors who didn’t charge Ahmaud Arbery’s killers face consequences? That’s the question at the heart of this Rolling Stone piece from Tim Dickinson. He reports on the two prosecutors who declined to take action against the three men who pursued and killed Arbery. A third prosecutor filed charges 74 days after the killing, and the men were convicted of Arbery’s murder last month. One of the two original prosecutors is currently facing criminal charges related to showing favoritism to one of the convicted men, whom she had previously employed. Meanwhile, the other prosecutor reportedly worked behind the scenes to defend the men and paint Arbery as the assailant, advising local police in the aftermath that the men’s actions were “perfectly legal.” The director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project argued that prosecutors’ conduct “really does call into question the integrity of the system.”

The controversial “21-foot rule” used to justify police shootings. A rubric based on the estimated distance a person with a knife could traverse before an officer unholsters their gun is often used by prosecutors to determine whether an officer-involved shooting was legally justified. “Frontline” and the Salt Lake Tribune report that the thinking behind this tenet, if not the rule itself, has been cited by police and lawyers in close to 20 percent of police shooting cases in Utah over the last 16 years in which the victim possessed a knife. Despite not being part of the official police curriculum, it’s still mentioned in training, even as the Salt Lake City officer who came up with the idea says it was never supposed to be a hard directive.

Des Moines, Iowa, is the latest city to adopt Cure Violence. The City Council unanimously voted this week to spend $445,000 on a local implementation of the violence prevention model that deploys outreach workers to deescalate street conflicts. Cure Violence currently operates in more than two dozen cities across the country. “Our community has been asking us to do things differently and to try something new,” City Manager Scott Sanders said in a city press release. “We have to take the risk and find a unique way to address the issue of violence in Des Moines.”

Data Point

1,009 — the number of homicides in Cook County, Illinois, this year through November 30. Of those, 927 were gun related, while more than 750 occurred in Chicago; the majority of victims across all homicides were Black. Cook County hadn’t seen more than 1,000 homicides in a year since 1994. [Chicago Sun-Times]