Gun violence reduction advocates rally on the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday, March 23, 2023 (Capital-Star photo).
By Sherry Stone
PHILADELPHIA — Gun violence in the United States increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
What’s more, that violence hit Black children from the nation’s four major cities — including Philadelphia —100 times more than usual.
JAMA focused on data on firearm assaults and injuries involving children from 2015 to 2021 in Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Philadelphia is described in the report as “the city with more than one million population with the highest firearm homicide rate.”
Child shootings during the full study period (January 2015-December 2021), totaled 2,672 from all four states, combined. Of that number, 1,899 were African-American children, and 928 of those children were from Philadelphia over the five-year span.
In contrast, of the 2,672 child victims (minors under age 18), during the same space of time, only 56 were white, 38 Asian and 679 Latino.
While the Philadelphia’s City Controller’s Office statistics show a 14% decrease recently in gun violence, far too many of the city’s students have been affected by violence, said Monique Braxton, deputy chief of communications/spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia.
“One hundred students have been shot, 20 of them killed since the school year began,” she said. “Only two incidents occurred near schools such as Roxborough High and Overbrook High. One incident occurred a block to a block and a half away from Blaine Middle School, but the victims ran toward to school seeking safety where they could find help from the adults at an afterschool program.”
“We continued to work with community partners and the Philadelphia Police Department as we strive to keep our students safe through Safe Paths and Safety Zones,” Braxton said.
Through Safe Paths, parents and community volunteers gather to form a sheltered pathway for students exiting schools to walk through when the last school bell rings.
To bring the numbers home, during Easter weekend, in East Frankford a 15-year-old girl was shot at least three times. She was in critical condition after Saturday’s shooting around 3 a.m. on the 5200 block of Duffield Street.
Also on Friday, a 12-year-old girl in a Cobbs Creek rowhome in West Philadelphia was shot in the lower buttocks. The incident happened around 8 p.m. on the 200 block of S. 58th Street.
Last week, there were reports of an accidental shooting of a 5-year-old from the 3100 block of Patton Street in Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion section of the city. The child’s mother, who had a license for the firearm thought she had put the gun out of reach in a manila envelope, but the child somehow got it. The child was rushed to Temple Hospital and was expected to be transferred to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
“It could have been been a lot worse!” said Cpl. Jasmine Riley, from Philadelphia Police Department’s media relations.
And the city reeled last month when a 12-year-old boy was accidentally shot by his 10-year-old brother inside a Strawberry Mansion home on the 2600 block of North Hollywood Street. The child had a gunshot wound to the chest in a bedroom of the home at 11:20 am. The boys had been left unattended by an adult, according to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
Following the murder of a student from Simon Gratz Mastery Charter School in North Philadelphia — just a block away from the school at 16th Street and W. Hunting Park Avenue — the schools got tough and organized new safety programs.
Devin Weedon was ambushed by four men about 7:45 a.m. and was fatally shot.
JAMA counts from March 15, 2020, on as pandemic statistics. Children of color experienced “disproportionate shares of the increased violence,” according to the report, published March 8, 2023. Black children are nearly 100 times more likely to be victims of gun violence.
JAMA called the driving force behind the U.S. firearm violence epidemic nothing short of “structural racism.” Possible explanations for the changes included “COVID-19’s exacerbation of inequities in access to health, employment and educational resources.”
“The concentration of firearm victimization among Black, Hispanic and Asian children must be addressed at the individual, community and societal level. It is critical to focus community safety and mental health interventions in the most affected communities,” the journal said.
The pandemic was associated with a nearly two-fold increase in children being shot, which hit New York hardest.
However, there was a pandemic-attributable increase of 503.5 child injuries across all four cities.
Sherry Stone is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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