AIF Blog

New Planned Parenthood President Says Violence Can Be Cured

Sep 13, 2018
CATEGORY: Health, U.S.A.
Dr. Leana Wen talked about curing violence at Spotlight Health in 2015. This week, Wen became president of Planned Parenthood.
Leana Wen, the newly-announced president of Planned Parenthood, was Baltimore City Health Commissioner in 2015. That was the year riots broke out following the death of Freddie Gray. Gray, 25, grew up in an impoverished Baltimore neighborhood was arrested after he ran from police. He later died in police custody. Peaceful protests turned to violent riots and Wen and her team were in the middle of it. “One of our clinics was right across the street from the CVS that ended up burning down,” Wen told an audience at Spotlight Health. Roads were shuttered, cars were burned, and still Wen’s team continued to work. “That’s something that I find to be completely incredible because our staff literally put themselves in harm’s way. [The work] is literally life-saving to the people we’re serving.”
Freddie Gray’s struggles started early. His mother was addicted to drugs and he had multiple run ins with the law. Wen, who sat on Baltimore’s Child Fatality Review Committee, says certain factors can be predictors of early death. On the Committee, some of the cases she reviewed were of kids dying from gunshot wounds. “The most depressing part is that you can almost predict that that child was going to die.” Being shot previously is one predictor she cites. She blames this tragic problem on structural poverty, racism, and discriminatory practices. “They contributed to where we are now."
Wen views violence from a public health perspective. She sees it as a communicable disease that needs to be stopped from spreading. One way Baltimore is working to do that is with a program called Safe Streets. It aims to cure violence by putting former gang leaders and drug dealers on the streets. “They interrupt violence where it occurs. Last year [2014] they mediated nearly 1,000 violent conflicts. Eighty percent of those were deemed likely to result in violence or gun violence.”
Wen, 35, was named the new leader of Planned Parenthood on September 12. It’s the first time in 50 years that a doctor will lead the organization. Former Planned Parenthood President, Cecile Richards, has also spoken at the Festival.
Written by Marci Krivonen, Aspen Institute Public Programs
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