A University of San Diego professor and the Democracy Fund foundation Wednesday released a report that details the physical, psychological and economic costs of political violence in the United States and concludes the health of American democracy requires strategic investment in community-led solutions.
It warns of a “radiating circle of risk.”
“Each act of violence creates a risk of a copycat crime, of radicalizing someone else, of a traumatized individual turning to violence at home or in the community, or of a family member committing suicide with a newly acquired gun,” the report said.
“The mathematics of risk is ruthless, dictating that follow-on violence will not take place in many cases but will, inevitably, in some cases.”
Andrew Blum, a Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies professor and executive director of the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, took a look at extremism, hate crimes, armed militias and acts of police brutality and assessed the associated costs: injury and loss of life, trauma, property damage, lost business revenue and personal wages, and the acceleration of additional violence.
Between 2016 and 2019, the FBI received reports of 27,730 hate crimes involving 34,074 victims. The group Stop AAPI Hate, which started tracking anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide amid a major uptick in such crimes against that ethnic group, recorded more than 2,800 accounts by the end of 2020.
“When political violence happens, it is right and proper that we first focus on the human cost, that is the loss of life and physical injury,” Blum said. “In the aftermath of these incidents, however, communities also wrestle with significant economic costs, including the radiating impact of grief and trauma, damage to property and lost revenue resulting from the disruption of economic activity. There is much that can and must be done to mitigate these impacts.”
Following the Boston Marathon bombing, it is estimated that the city lost between $250 million and $330 million when it shut down for one day due to the manhunt for the bombers. In Portland, one 2019 riot cost downtown businesses more than $3 million in lost revenue.
The psychological costs are also great: The 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting created 616 diagnosed cases of PTSD among 4,000 students surveyed, which added up to about $4 million in potential treatment costs for just one year, according to the report.
Blum found violence accelerates violence.
Within the first week following the Unite the Right rally and murder of antifascist activist Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, there was a 22,000% increase in internet searches by people looking for a way to donate to the Ku Klux Klan, according to the professor.
The report posits that the antidote to political violence is to invest in six key areas: engaged leadership, social trust, social relationships, preparedness, and place attachment and collective efficacy — when members care about their community and believe they can change it for the better.
“The insurrection on January 6th showed us just how serious the threat of political violence has become,” said Joe Goldman, president of the Democracy Fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
“Our democracy demands not just accountability for the many costs, but a stronger dedication to the long-term work of preventing violence in the first place by creating strong, connected communities,” Goldman said.
— City News Service contributed to this report.