Councilman introduces bill focused on trauma response

It’s a city dubbed by many as ‘Harm City’ or ‘Bodymore’, and Baltimore City remains the deadliest city in America. Since 2015, and the uprising that erupted after the death and burial of Freddy Gray; Baltimore has witnessed over 300 homicides each year.  And on the eve of yet another deadly weekend that witnessed nine individuals shot and two killed, one local councilman is planning to address the trauma that comes along with the violence that continues to plague a city that was once known as ‘Charm City’.

Later this evening, first-term councilman Zeke Cohen (D-01) will introduce legislation that aims to require all city agencies to rewrite their policies with a lens toward reducing harm, focusing more on the trauma victims of gun violence are left with which is typically left unaddressed. Cohen offered up an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun earlier today which addresses the reasons behind his decision to introduce this bill at this time.

He also issued an e-blast to supporters and media pointing to what inspired him to introduce the bill in the first place, as well as what the legislation aims to do. Here are both:



Today I will introduce The Baltimore Trauma Responsive Care Act. This legislation was inspired by the powerful testimony of students after a shooting occurred at Frederick Douglass High School. Their resilience is remarkable.

Baltimore’s children are growing up in an epidemic of violence, yet our response has too often prioritized policing at the expense of prevention.  Fifty six percent of our kids have experienced one or more major traumas. Left unaddressed, these will lead to worse health outcomes, and increased risk for violence, addiction and incarceration. The time to end the cycle of violence is now.

This legislation creates a workgroup led by youth, community, the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success and the City Council.  It requires all city agencies to rewrite their policies with a lens toward reducing harm.

We cannot afford to wait for another generation to grow up without officially acknowledging the role that trauma plays, and how our government has at times perpetuated it. I am deeply grateful to everyone that is engaged in this work, and look forward to introducing the bill!

I would appreciate if you would share my op-ed in Today’s Baltimore Sun on your social media. Let the world know that we deserve a Trauma Responsive City. Thanks for all of your support.

Councilman Zeke Cohen


Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: The time is now for Baltimore to become a ‘trauma-responsive city’

A few months ago, a group of men pulled up to the parking lot of the O’Donnell Heights playground in a black car and fired 37 rounds, injuring four people. The shooting occurred shortly after two elementary schools let out for dismissal. When the gunfire erupted, chaos ensued. According to one witness, “It was like watching a hurricane of bullets.”

The next day, I spoke with students at Holabird Academy. An eighth grader described the terror she felt hearing the “pops,” knowing that her family was walking home. “My little brother is 3. He heard everything. He saw the man bleeding out on the pavement.” As she spoke her hand trembled.

There is a cruelly predictable rhythm to Baltimore’s violence. After a shooting, local media show up on the scene for a few hours. Elected officials and police promise to redouble safety efforts and catch the bad guys. The school system sends in a couple of counselors. Eventually, public attention wanes as gunfire erupts somewhere else. Communities are left to grieve alone.

If O’Donnell Heights were a middle-class neighborhood, every child would have access to therapeutic support to address the trauma they had suffered. But we live in Baltimore, where redlined black and brown communities endure shootings as a part of daily life, and where access to high quality mental health care in disinvested neighborhoods is as unavailable as fresh, affordable food.

After the shooting, the City Council’s Youth and Public Safety committees held a joint hearing. Bryonna, Jaionna and Damani from Frederick Douglass High School spoke powerfully about what it’s like to live in fear. They found temporary solace in their school, but even that was shattered when a gunman opened fire in the vestibule a few months ago. Their poise throughout their painful testimony underscored the grit and resilience that so many of Baltimore’s children possess.

Their stories of the daily obstacles they face — from housing instability to incarcerated family members to neighborhood violence — are sadly familiar to most kids across our city.

According to data from The Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, 56% of Baltimore’s children have experienced one or more major traumatic events. Left unaddressed, each of these “adverse childhood experiences,” can have a devastating impact on health outcomes and lead to an increased risk of addiction, incarceration and other risky behaviors. Baltimore’s children are growing up in an epidemic of violence, yet our response has reliably prioritized policing at the expense of prevention.

The students ended their testimony with a call to action. A call for the adults in their lives to no longer ignore or exacerbate their pain. A call for teachers, administrators and legislators to provide the opportunities and resources they need to heal.

We should listen to our students. The time is now to transform Baltimore into a “trauma-responsive city” that prevents violence by treating its root causes. I am collaborating with a cross-sector coalition on a policy to equip all city agencies that engage children and families with the training, tools and resources to effectively respond to trauma.

Our legislation would direct city agencies to rewrite policies and procedures with an eye toward reducing harm. We will convene a diverse work group whose mission is to promote healing. And finally, our Health Department will help train frontline staff to recognize and effectively respond to trauma. Today, I will introduce The Baltimore City Trauma Responsive Care Act at the City Council meeting.

Cities and states that have taken this approach have seen reductions in violent crime and staff burnoutimprovements in mental health and academic outcomes. This strategy cannot pathologize our kids or their communities as a problem to be solved.

Young people have had a leading voice in shaping the intervention. We will employ an asset-based, community healing approach. We must also acknowledge the role that racist public policies have played in shaping our hyper-segregated city. Violence and its consequences are felt disproportionately in communities of color. Responding effectively to trauma will not absolve us of our responsibility to work toward a more just and equitable Baltimore.

We have an opportunity to be a national leader in community-centered healing. We have some of the best public health resources in the world. We have a mayor who has consistently prioritized children. Most importantly, we have incredibly resilient kids who deserve far better than what they receive. Let’s not wait for another mass shooting in O’Donnell Heights or any other neighborhood to unite behind our children.


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