Research Spotlight: Joseph B. Richardson, Jr.

When Joseph B. Richardson, Jr. and his colleagues approached VICE News, they had one goal in mind: create a discussion about gun violence that included people of color. Though the media and American public have turned a more critical eye to gun violence in recent years, Richardson, who researches gun violence in communities of color, noticed that the experts featured in the media were overwhelmingly white. In response, Richardson and two colleagues facilitated a roundtable discussion published by VICE, featuring their perspectives as researchers of color whose work is centered on communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by gun violence.

An associate professor of African American studies at the University of Maryland and a New Connections alumnus, Richardson is also a founder and program and research director for the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program (CAP-VIP). Working out of the trauma ward at the University of Maryland’s Prince George’s Hospital Center, Richardson researches the intersections of trauma, violent injury, and gun violence. Through CAP-VIP, survivors of violent injury receive psychosocial services such as mental health counseling, job placement, peer support, and mentoring to reduce the likelihood of repeat violent injury from potential future retaliation.

Can you share a summary of your most recent research?

My most recent research project, “Life After the Gunshot,” uses focus groups to understand the challenges low-income male survivors of firearm-related violent injury face as they try to recover physically and mentally following discharge from the hospital. Through the focus groups—composed of caregivers of male survivors of gun violence—, we will investigate how these survivors who participate in CAP-VIP perceive the program’s effectiveness in reducing trauma and criminal recidivism. We will use the data  from the focus groups to improve the delivery of CAP-VIP services for this population.

You were recently featured, along with other gun violence experts, in a VICE article. What was the process for getting that piece published?

First, let me give a shout out to my colleagues and co-authors Dr. Jooyoung Leeand Dr. Desmond Patton. They are two of the top gun violence researchers in the U.S. The idea for the article emerged from our frustration with the lack of media visibility for scholars of color who conduct incredible gun violence research. Articles on gun violence published in the mainstream media rarely feature scholars of color, even though communities of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence. My colleagues and I are engaged in cutting edge research on gun violence, so we pitched the article to VICE and several other media outlets, explaining why we should be involved in this discussion. VICE understood our vision and invited us to facilitate a roundtable discussion about gun violence in communities of color. These are the conversations Jooyoung, Desmond, and I often have about the impact of gun violence in the communities where we work and the steps we are taking to intervene.

More than 50 percent of all gun-related homicide victims are Black and Brown. Based on our positionality and intersectionality as scholars of color, our communities serve as ground zero for gun violence. We must acknowledge that gun violence is not new particularly in the communities where we work. Gun violence has been the leading cause of death for young Black males for decades, yet it never received attention as a public health crisis worthy of a national discussion. In my opinion, that’s the hypocrisy of the gun violence discourse—it’s selective and places a value on whose life is worth advocating for on the national agenda.

What motivates you in your work with CAP-VIP and gun violence research?

My position as a Black male scholar from the Uptown section of Philadelphia motivates me. My grandmother and uncle were murdered in separate incidents. I never knew them. At least five young men from my neighborhood were murdered via guns despite my neighborhood being relatively stable and nice. My mother worked hard as a high school teacher to provide me with an opportunity to realize my dreams, but I never imagined in my life that I would be a professor or have a PhD—to be honest I never thought I would live past the age of 21. It just seemed like no matter how far you made it in my neighborhood, we were waiting for something to go wrong; it was not a matter of if but when. I feel obligated to save as many people as I can who may have looked at life through the same lens I did.

Who should read your research and why?

I want my research to be accessible to everyone. Many of my article titles come from hip-hop or every day language used in the ‘hood. For an article that explored how emergency departments can collect reliable police involved shooting data, I used the title “Who Shot Ya?”, which is a song by my favorite MC, Biggie Smalls. I interviewed trauma surgeons and nurses about why health professionals are reluctant to officially document police violence even when they know a patient was brutalized by law enforcement. NPR Health interviewed me about the article and the story went viral. Right now, I’m writing an article titled “Shook Ones” that examines PTSD among young Black men who have been violently injured. The title comes from a song written by the hip-hop group Mobb Deep.

How do you intend to apply your research?

Fortunately, I have used my research on violence and trauma among Black boys and young Black men to develop CAP-VIP. The CAP-VIP staff approaches violently injured patients at bedside, developing trust and rapport with patients, then presenting them with the opportunity to participate in the program. We call this time the golden hours, because patients are more receptive to changing their lifestyles while still hospitalized. To date we have provided services for over 100 participants—most are survivors of gunshot or stab wounds—and none have returned to the hospital for a violent injury or died. None have been re-arrested for a new crime in the year since we launched our program. This is an incredible accomplishment, considering that the trauma recidivism rate for violent injury is 32 percent and almost 70 percent of our program participants are involved in the criminal justice system. I attribute this to our outstanding frontline staff, Anna Cleveland (Social Worker/Clinical Counselor), Tracy Woods-Sam (Case Manager) and Che Bullock (Credible Messenger/Violence Intervention Specialist).

What was your favorite thing about this research?

My favorite thing about this research was watching one of the participants in my study become a member of the CAP-VIP staff. Che Bullock, the credible messenger/violence intervention specialist for CAP-VIP was a participant in a previous longitudinal ethnographic study of violent injury and trauma among Black men that I conducted at UMD Prince George’s Hospital Center from 2013-2015. When I met Che he had been stabbed 12 times in an altercation at a club. He was medevacked to our trauma center and almost died. Once he was stabilized, my co-investigator, Dr. Christopher St. Vil (also a recent New Connections grantee) and I approached Che about participating in my study. After the study, Che and I continued our relationship, and he became my mentee. He was still involved in the streets but was trying to pull away from that lifestyle. One day after guest lecturing my class, he was involved in a shootout. That was a turning point for us. After that, Che became my intern, working with me for almost four years. I never gave him a dime—he worked for nothing. I fed him, but that was it. He had the tenacity to want to change his life. When we received funding for the program, he was the first person I hired.

Are there any next steps for your research?

The next steps of the research will be to conduct the largest randomized study on the effectiveness of hospital-based violence intervention programs  in reducing trauma recidivism. CAP-VIP is a member of Project Change, which is a consortium of hospital-based violence intervention programs in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Project Change is funded through the DC Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. I will serve as the principal investigator at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center. I am also the principal investigator for another study funded by the Department of Justice Innovations in Reentry Initiative and Justice Research Statistics Association, which will investigate the re-entry challenges of young men who have also been violently victimized. Upon release, these young men will receive a referral to the CAP-VIP for services. To my knowledge, this is the first model where a reentry program partnered with a hospital violence intervention program.