TRENTON - An 8-year-old boy walked out of his North Camden home in the fall and saw a dead man lying on the ground.
"What's that? Another fiend?" the child asked Micah Khan, who heads a Camden social service agency and who was at the scene of the fatal shooting in October, before Camden's body count for the year had surged to 67 homicides. Seemingly unfazed, the boy walked away.
"It didn't affect him at all," Khan said. "He was so desensitized to the violence. These trauma-filled cities . . . imagine these kids who have grown up around this."
Nearly a week after a school shooting at a Connecticut elementary school left 28 people dead, two New Jersey senators plan to introduce a bill Thursday to declare violence a public health emergency. They hope it will help the state win federal funding for violence prevention, encourage lawmakers to spend more on mental-health treatment, and potentially slow violence in crime-plagued cities such as Camden.
"These programs have to be funded, and the funding has dried up," State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) said at a news conference Thursday.
Sen. Shirley Turner (D., Mercer), who is cosponsoring the bill, said the shooting in Newtown should wake up lawmakers who represent rural and suburban areas where people don't deal with gun violence every day, as some of her Trenton constituents do.
"We have the same problem," she said. "Our children are being executed, just in different ways."
Neither senator expects the bill to stop violence, but both hope it will diminish it. New Jersey state police reported 380 homicides last year, a number consistent over the last five years.