Louisville’s Peace Education Program: The answer to record-breaking crime and death?

”Violence is a learned behavior according to the CDC, so therefore I feel like violence can be unlearned,” one of the program's directors says.
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 7:23 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The 2020 escalating homicide and non-fatal shootings rate in Louisville is due to young adults and teens not possessing the ability or knowledge to handle disputes, LMPD Homicide Unit Lt. Donny Burbrink says.

Conflict can be faced at every age and every stage of life. Knowing how to handle it can be lifesaving.

“As a culture, we’re a violent society,” Carrie Christensen, Project Manager for Louisville’s Peace Education Program, says. “Everybody’s stress level is so high. How can we take care of each other instead of attacking each other?”

The Peace Education Program has been teaching conflict resolution to those who need it for more than 30 years. Christensen believes thousands of people in Louisville have been able to reject violence and choose peaceful ways of solving their problems

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Louisville's Police Department is reducing its specialty units, WAVE 3 News has learned. The move is part of an effort to get more officers on patrol, LMPD spokesperson Jesse Halladay said.

“Conflict resolution is having the flexibility around how you react to a conflict,” she says.

Deborah Barnes-Byers, the project manager for the Peace Education’s Pivot to Peace Program, agrees with Christensen. However, she doesn’t put the blame solely on young people.

”Violence is a learned behavior according to the CDC, so therefore I feel like violence can be unlearned,” Barnes-Byers says. “We have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. We can’t guide youth then act crazy ourselves.”

In Pivot to Peace, Barnes-Byers helps victims of stabbings and shootings identify and address factors in their lives that have put them at risk of violence both physically and mentally, but they do not do it alone. Each victim receives assistance from caseworkers and other community resources.

“They don’t have a ton of role models on how to handle stuff peacefully,” Christensen adds.

COVID-19 and social unrest have not been figured into the high rate of crime and death in Louisville, but Christensen says it all figures into what she calls “diseases of despair.”

A teenager died after being shot on Vetter Avenue Sunday evening.
A teenager died after being shot on Vetter Avenue Sunday evening.(WAVE 3 News)

”Where it’s like you’re hopeless and you don’t think your life matters and if your community has things happening that make you feel your life doesn’t matter,” she stresses.

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The Gulfport school district is looking at reviewing a long-standing lunch policy, after a parent says her child was refused a meal because she didn't have lunch money.(Photo Source: WLOX)

Young people have also been removed from easy access to meals if their family is food insecure and mental health services in schools.

”Our schools are safety islands for these kids and the doors haven’t been open since March 13th,” Christensen explains.

Christensen and Barnes-Byers believe the community must work together as a city to intentionally learn how to help each other when it comes to peace and progress.

”I think we need way more conflict resolution in this city,” Christensen says. “I think young people need it. I think our adults need it. I think our police need it.”

The Peace Education Program offers several opportunities for young people to learn about conflict resolution and working together.

“Step in and say we can talk about this,” Barnes-Byers stresses.

Christensen agrees, saying everyone can communicate, listen, and look at options without weapons or harsh words.

“We all have to work on this together,” Christensen says. “I care about what you need in this conflict, but I also want to know what you need in this conflict.”

The Peace Education Program currently works with 88 schools and 67 community sites in its network. During the pandemic, they are doing their best to raise awareness and funds to continue their programs virtually and in smaller groups.

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