As a black Chicago pediatrician, I am deeply concerned about the continued effects of community and state-sanctioned gun violence on black and brown youth and their families. As a society, we continue to devalue the lives of black and brown youth.
The sad reality is that 2021 was Chicago’s deadliest year, with 791 homicides, more than any other US city, and the most Chicago has seen since 1996. Nearly 300 victims were under the age of 25. This year, there have already been 114 homicides. in Chicago, and at least 42 victims were under the age of 25.
As a black pediatrician, it bothers me to know that gun violence disproportionately affects young black men more than any other age, racial, or ethnic group.
What will it take to change that?
The people of Chicago, myself included, have become desensitized to gun violence. It’s easy to offer condolences and prayers, and to use hashtags on social media, when you’re not personally affected by Chicago’s staggering homicide rates. But something must be done.
We have failed to protect our black and brown youth – and this is a public health crisis.
Let’s discuss the devastating effects of community and state sanctioned gun violence on the mental and physical health of our black and brown youth in Chicago. Children who experience or witness trauma, including the trauma of gun violence, can experience lasting effects ranging from substance abuse to suicide, as noted by Nerissa Bauer in a 2021 article for the American Academy of Pediatricians. .
Black youth have never been considered at high risk for suicide. But trends that began to emerge even before the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that may be changing. According to a 2018 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, between 1991 and 2017, suicide attempts increased by 73% among black adolescents. In 2019, the black suicide crisis became so acute that the Congressional Black Caucus released a task force report on the topic. The report notes that the death rate from suicide has increased faster among black youth than any other racial or ethnic group.
Black teens are less likely to receive mental health care than white teens due to many barriers to treatment, including stigma surrounding mental health, lack of access and representation in health care, and distrust of towards health care providers.
The results are disastrous: a lack of mental health care is a major risk factor for suicide for those who already suffer from depression.
The same barriers and lack of resources make black and brown youth vulnerable, leading to an even higher risk of suicide and gun violence in a time of desperation and desperation. In a 2019 survey of American high school students by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38% of Chicago students said they had felt sad or hopeless in the past two weeks, 17% said they had seriously considered suicide , 13% said they had planned to attempt suicide, 10% had attempted suicide, and more than 3% had attempted suicide that resulted in injury, poisoning, or overdose. I imagine those percentages have only increased during the pandemic.
As a black pediatrician in Chicago, when I watch the local news, I can’t help but wonder if any of my patients have experienced gun violence, whether state-sanctioned or within from the community. How many mothers and fathers still have to mourn the untimely loss of their child? I often think of the mental health of parents and siblings deeply affected by these tragedies. Parents should not feel the pain of losing their child. I think of the grief of the brothers and sisters of the victims. I think of the emotional distress that comes with being stopped and searched, or being stopped by the police while driving or driving a car, or having experienced police brutality.
As a black man, I witness the devaluing of black and brown lives every day, and I feel an urgent responsibility to change the status quo of gun violence affecting communities of color in Chicago.
How to make the streets of Chicago safe for children?
I believe this crisis is the result of brutal disinvestments by communities of color. Chicago — a city notorious for its history of redlining, segregation and brutal policing of black and brown communities — has closed dozens of public schools, hospitals and mental health clinics in those same communities in recent years. Last year, the city spent $281 million, or nearly 60%, of CARES Act COVID financial assistance to fund the Chicago Police Department.
Discussions about protecting young people from gun violence and homicide should include businesses, policymakers and elected officials. Such discussions should aim to invest money in public schools, after-school programs, extra-curricular activities such as sports, music and the arts – anything that can enrich the lives of our children and keep them out of the Street.
We cannot blame gun violence on the lack of parental involvement. Rather, it is the result of generations of structural racism that have created disproportionate rates of incarceration and deportation and deepened wealth disparities that prevent poor black and brown parents from being as present in their children’s lives as they are. they could be otherwise. We must eradicate food deserts, provide equitable access to education and health care, and enforce stricter laws, including more comprehensive background checks and restrictions on access to firearms and ammunition.
And a real solution to the violence will remain elusive unless we eliminate the longstanding distrust of police and medical professionals that exists within BIPOC communities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the safest home for a child is a gun-free home. The risk of homicide among young people is three times higher when there are firearms in the home. Firearms should be unloaded with ammunition stored separately and locked. Parents should ask questions about guns and gun safety in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives: “Is there a gun in your home, if so, is it locked and unloaded?
Politicians, Judges, Lawyers and Police: Please value the lives and potential of young people of color and consider the emotional and mental trauma they face when interacting with the police. Black and brown youth are being robbed of their innocence and potential to become future world and community leaders, athletes, scientists, lawyers and business people.
This editorial pays tribute to the victims under the age of 25 who have already lost their lives by homicide in 2022:
Folashade Mord, 25
Deshawn Thompson, 19
Lebron Colon, 18 years old
Ashlee Elliot, 18
Elijah Suggs, 20
Michael Miller, 22 years old
Nyzireya Moore, 12 years old
Antoine French, 25 years old
Zacharie McClain, 16
Knight of Vadarrion, 16
Stephon Black, 21 years old
Maurice Morris, Jr., 18
Jamerion Wales, 15
Ejuan Wilson, 21 years old
Sincere Cole, 15
Miracle Cotton, 23 years old
Johnae McGowin, 22
Denzel Moore, 21
Uriel Rogers-Knox, 16
Javion Johnson, 20
Michael Brown, 15 years old
Matthew Robertson, 22 years old
Dontrell Walker, 20
Ronald Coppage, 18 years old
Leonard Bautista, 16 years old
David Valladares, 23 years old
Stephon Mack, 24
Melissa Ortega, 8 years old
Ohleyer Jones, 19
Don’tonio Jones, 20 years old
Isaiah Hoskins, 20
Caleb Westbrook, 15
Lard Jakolbi, 20
Demarco Strawder, 24 years old
James Sweezer, 14 years old
Javion Ivy, 14 years old
Donovan Duffy, 23
Laniyah Murphy, 20
Tahjuan Dowd, 20 years old
Marcel Wilson, 12 years old
Antonio Rankin, 22 years old
I call on all community leaders to invest in young people of color. Let’s not forget the children.
Terrance Weeden is a pediatrician and adolescent medicine researcher at Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital, with clinical interests in eradicating health disparities among young people from underrepresented and marginalized communities, particularly those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Dr. Weeden also serves on the board of directors of the AIDS Foundation Chicago and the board of directors of the Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus. His opinions do not represent those of his employer.