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Murder Is No Accident: Understanding and Preventing Youth Violence in America



Murder Is No Accident: Understanding and Preventing Youth Violence in America

Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Howard R. Spivak

ISBN: 978-0-787-96980-6 October 2003 Jossey-Bass 288 Pages


Authors Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Howard R. Spivak— two prominent Boston-area public health officials who played leading roles in that city's turnaround— show that the key to Boston's success was creating an interdisciplinary citywide movement. The city's movement— made up of educators, community leaders, police officers, emergency room workers, activist teens, teen and family member survivors of violence, and many others— worked for more than ten years to implement multifaceted preventive programs that confronted each risk factor for youth violence, including
  • Positive Role Models: Peer mentoring and teacher-training programs
  • Healthy and Safe Communities: Youth centers, after-school programs, and other organized recreational activities
  • Poverty: Economic stimulus policies to help reduce poverty in inner-city and rural areas
  • Pro-Social Behaviors: Conflict resolution and violence prevention curricula in schools
  • Domestic Violence: Home visitation programs and screening to protect kids from domestic violence
  • Gun Buybacks: Reduction in the number of firearms on the streets

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Part One: The Problem.

1. A Shocked America: The Epidemic Spreads.

2. Who Are We?

Part Two: Issues and Solutions.

3. What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?

4. Understanding Risk and Resiliency.

5. Guns: Escalating the Consequences.

6. It’s the Television, Stupid.

7. The Demonization of Youth.

8. Girls and Violence: Rambettes.

9. Violence at Home.

Part Three: What Happened in Boston.

10. Violence Is Preventable.

11. The Movement Grows.

Part Four: Lessons Learned.

12. There Is No One Model.

13. The System Is Part of the Problem.

14. Going Into the Future.


Further Reading.

About the Authors.


"Written in a clear, personable style, the book is a thoughtful read for anyone working in youth violence prevention." (Youth Today, 12/03)

Prothrow-Stith, a Harvard School of Public Health associate dean and professor, and Spivak, New England Medical Center's chief of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine, bring impressive credentials and two decades each of experience in medicine, public health and violence prevention to this essential primer on adolescent violence. In impassioned, colloquial prose, the authors delineate the causes of teen violence (e.g., easy access to weapons; violent entertainment); elucidate past approaches, including police intervention for urban youth and mental health intervention for suburban youth; explain the impact of racism and classism on teen violence; offer first-person testimonies as exhortations; and detail ploys to combat the problem before it hits any more crisis points like the Columbine disaster or Los Angeles's street gang wars. The authors also reveal their backgrounds in order to break down stereotypes about violence: Prothrow-Stith's African-American family was close-knit and nurturing. Spivak's Bronx Jewish family excessively violent. But there's no discussion of the trend toward prosecuting teens as adults or of the fact that the U. S. remains one of only three nations worldwide to execute teens. The nexus of the authors' argument: violence is pr4ventable, but id does "take a village." Demonizing youth, treating teens of color differently from white teens and focusing on crisis intervention rather than preventives are mistakes that have intensified rather than precluded violence, they say, insisting on recognition of violence as a public health issue. This is a solid and heartfelt contribution to a major concern in our country. Agent, Kristen Wainwright. (Nov.)
Forecast: Blurbs from Sen. Ted Kennedy and Marian Wright Edelman bespeak support for Prothrow-Stith and Spivak's approach. Prothrow-Stith has discussed teen violence in many public forums, including Nightline and Oprah. (Publishers Weekly, September 8, 2003)

Prothrow-Stith (public health practice, Harvard Sch. of Public Health) and Spivak (pediatrics & community health, Tufts Univ. Sch. of Medicine) begin with the premise that violence is not inevitable. They describe "a world gone mad" where murder and violent death are common aspects of children's lives, citing a recent study of 26 industrialized nations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that about 73 percent of all child homicides occur in the United States. Why? Several risk factors are delineated: poverty, alcohol use, guns, media, and witnessing violence. The authors point to the great success of Boston officials in decreasing juvenile murder rates over the last 20 years; also offered are compelling arguments against zero-tolerance policies, TV violence as entertainment, and demonizing young black men. No single explanation as to why the "Boston Model" works as well as it does is given, implying that dealing with youth violence requires sensitivity of thought. A concluding chapter summarizes lessons learned, e.g., that forgiveness is a strategy. An excellent addition to public libraries, this work is far more comprehensive than Betsy McAlister Groves's Children Who See Too Much, which describes Boston's Child Witness to Violence Project. —Linda Beck, Indian Valley Pl., Telford, PA (Library Journal, November 15, 2003)

  • A model program for preventing youth homicide and violence -- one of the most acute and disturbing problems in the US today.
  • Two highly-placed authors with impeccable credentials and affiliations, who deserve substantial credit for reducing youth homicide and violence in Boston to its current level.