A hospital executive in Brooklyn hopes showing kids cadavers and violent videos will help keep them away from guns: I just want to give them a choice
In the basement of a hospital in East Brooklyn, 16 middle school students dressed in navy blazers and striped ties stare through a pane of glass at a cadaver wrapped in a white sheet.
What were trying to show you is: this is the end, says Khari Edwards, an executive at Brookdale University hospital and medical center. We want you to never have to come down here.
Edwards says hes seen too many kids wheeled into the emergency room with gunshot wounds. His controversial new program, It Starts Here, brings students to his hospital in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, one of the most dangerous in the city.
Edwards aims to jolt kids desensitized to violence with a graphic 90-minute seminar that culminates in a visit to the morgue. He hopes that by being exposed to the reality of death, young people will make choices that keep them away from guns. But some parents and researchers consider it a counterproductive scare tactic.
Im scared straight
Before an audience of more than 40 kids ages 10 to 15 in Brookdales auditorium, a large screen begins to play a video of a man walking through a Chicago neighborhood.
Bang-bang! Gunshots rattle the auditorium. The students watch as a man is shot live on Facebook. Next they see endoscopic footage of a bullet being removed from a victims eye, and later a slideshow of bullet-torn internal organs and body parts, including a gunshot blast to the face.
Some students shield their views with jackets or hats, or watch through splayed fingers. One closes his eyes, waiting for it to be over.
The eye part was really scary, 13-year-old Brianna Browne says later. It made me feel really weird, like the feeling of butterflies in my stomach before I perform in dance. Jordan Lopez, a 12-year-old who says he can sometimes hear gunfire from his home in Brownsville, said the presentation made him feel protective over his younger twin sisters. Now I know that I have to look out for them more, he says. I dont want them to die at a young age.
Diamond Wynter, 12, exclaims afterwards to her friends: Im scared straight!
The term scared straight dates to 1978, and a hit documentary by the same name. The film featured hardened convicts who shared their prison horror stories with juvenile offenders convicted of arson, assault, and other crimes. The convicts screamed, yelled, and swore at the young people. The concept behind the approach was that kids could be frightened into avoiding criminal acts.