28 July 2012

Joining the tragic dots

As readers of The Growlery have noticed, I have been absent for just a heartbeat under four weeks now. Nothing to worry about; just the result of my having, yet again, overstretched and ended up for a while with too few hours in day or days in the week to keep every plate in the air. Thanks to all those who sent solicitous enquiries ... and apologies for the lateness or absence of responses. Apologies, too, to all those friends whose emails have gone unanswered, achievements unnoticed, birthdays and anniversaries unacknowledged...

Ploughing through the backlog, one of the highlights which I discovered that I had missed was a paper in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, coauthored by my long suffering friend (and fellow Melanie Safka fan) Barbara Claire. Barbara is a member of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis' Medical Center, which consistently does excellent work on causes of and contributory factors in violence related injury. She also manages to be president (also publisher and webmaster) of a historical society, a prime mover in a museum, rescuer of dogs in need, Charles Dickens enthusiast ... Amongst these and many other calls on her time, she finds time to heroically and single handedly sustain our friendship across the decades despite my abysmal failings as a correspondent. (Thank you, Barbara: I don't deserve you, but I'm so very glad you're still there.)

Anyway ... to return to the point: this research paper, which I have just belatedly read.

The paper is both instructive and depressing reading. One of the things which has occupied my excess time over the past month or so has been data collection and analysis for a group of charities dealing with a society thrown into a state of effective civil war. Injuries confronting overstretched (often overwhelmed) medical facilities in such a situation invariably include a very high proportion of what militaryspeak likes to call "collateral damage" casualties. Despite experience with that fact, and back of my mind knowledge that bystanders do get involved in criminal exchanges (the high profile cases of Jessica Crichlow and Thusha Kamaleswaran in London come to mind ), I have never really gotten around to joining up the dots between one context and the other. Reading this paper in its entirety gave me a great deal to think about; but it was a single background paragraph that suddenly made the emotional link.

Stray bullet shootings contribute to a sense of insecurity and fear in affected communities. Children may be sent to stay with friends or relatives in lower risk neighborhoods after school and may be required to remain indoors after dark (and during the day, unless with an adult). They are taught to avoid crowds and people talking loudly, run when they see weapons, drop to the ground when they hear gunfire while outside, and take cover away from windows if indoors – in the bathtub, if possible. Adults become hypervigilant. They, too, stay indoors, during the day and at night. They may run errands in the morning or on weekends, when gunfire is less common.

That could have been written about many communities recognised as being in fully blown civil war, including my focus of the last month. It could have been written about Beirut in the last quarter of the twentieth century, Bosnia after the break up of Jugoslavia, or Syria now. It could have been written about Belfast during the worst days of "The Troubles".

But it isn't. It's describing communities within a western liberal democracy assumed to be at peace, where the study nevertheless found that “stray bullet deaths accounted for 45% of all firearm homicides among children aged 10 years or younger”. It's left me very thoughtful.

  • Garen J Wintemute, Barbara E Claire, et al., "Epidemiology and clinical aspects of stray bullet shootings in the United States" in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, July 2012. 73(1): p. 215-223. [copy of the paper available here]

1 comment:

Dr. C said...

Felix, that 31% children really grieves me. I don't think there is any argument that America is a violent society. That 12 people should be killed in a theater with an automatic weapon while watching a violent movie seems to me the epitome of this trend. Just today one of our Supreme Court Justices (Scalia) indicated that our Constitution wouldn't support a law that would ban hand held rocket launchers. I live in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."
BTW, I glanced through your friend's paper and was impressed that the issue was so understudied.