My thing is public health, and there is an enormous public health problem in Baltimore, where I work and will be going to school in September. This past weekend, a total of 20 people were shot. Eight of them died.
Here is a story from the Baltimore Sun about the shootings. As of today, there have been 110 homicides in Baltimore (17.8 per 100,000 residents). This is troubling because, as the Baltimore Sun reporters put it:
“After the weekend, a total of 110 people had been slain in Baltimore this year, and homicides were up 10 percent compared with the same time last year. In Washington, by comparison, there have been 38 homicides in 2013.”
Washington, DC, has a population of about the same size, give or take a couple of thousand (and a few hundred thousand that go in and out of DC to work each day). So Baltimore is way ahead of DC when it comes to homicides.
Things seem even worse when you look at the map of homicides in the last week:
All shootings. Seven males.
Expand the map a little bit and see 2013, and you will see that homicides seem to be pretty well dispersed throughout the city:
But then zoom in to some neighborhoods and see the hell people are living in:
Who would want to live there? People who have to, that’s who.
The Sun article mentions a man who lives on a black where homicides seem to be a daily occurrence lately:
“As he picked up trash, Martin said the city doesn’t seem to want to invest in the area. Martin has lived in the neighborhood since 1968. Teens and young men have nothing to do, he said. There are no jobs. Budget woes have closed some of the city’s recreation centers. He said officers need to get out of their cars and get to know residents.”
It’s going to take more than that. Heck, it’s going to take more than rec centers. It’s going to take the whole city, and those of us who come in to work and study, to come up with a solution, and we need to do it fast. The city is on pace to 228 homicides by the end of the year, based on the current rate. That’s huge. That’s about 37 homicides per 100,000 residents.
Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. That same article by the Baltimore Sun has some sad comments popping up:
Read it again.
That person who wrote that more White citizens in Baltimore would fix things is not a poe. She is an actual person. Not only that, she was not the only one with similar feelings of blaming the victims:
People with rap sheets deserve to be shot, I guess?
The tools of public health are systematic (and hopefully unbiased) gathering of data, analysis of those data by experts, and then dissemination of those data to people who will do something with it. Can public health rescue Baltimore? I think it can. We have data of where violence is happening, how it is happening (mostly guns), who is doing the killing (mostly males attracted to a life of crime because they have no other prospects), and we even know when because we know that there are “spikes” in violence during the summer months (like what Baltimore, Boston, and NYC are seeing right now).
I’ve told you before that we can treat violence as a virus. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp. Violence is infectious. A child who sees their parent(s) involved in violence is more likely to be violent themselves. Youths who hang around with violent youths are more likely to participate in violence. If it’s infectious, and we can identify the mode of contagion, then we can cut the chain of transmission.
To do all this requires a lot of work, and you can see how parents and teachers and others in the community can be un-involved when they have to work 16+ hours per day to make ends meet. It also requires stretching the budget of a city where about 10% of able workers are unemployed and where less than half of residents own their homes and where 1 out of 5 people live below the poverty level. In essence, Baltimore is a poor city, so it is hard to throw money at a problem where there is little money to throw.
We know what the problem is, where it is occurring, and who is doing the killing. There are proven strategies to curb violence in cities like Baltimore. It wouldn’t take a long time, but it would take great sacrifice. But we can’t seem to want to disable that pump handle, do we?
It’s time to remove the pump handles and save the city from the violence.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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