Commentary: Connect the dots between the red line and gun violence
Gun violence devastates entire communities, tearing apart families and leaving survivors disabled for life. As a surgeon, I see the physical, mental and psychological toll that this violence inflicts on the victims and their loved ones. Young teens struggle to take their last petrified breaths as we try to control the damage. When they are told the news, the loss and anguish of their parents is beyond description. Even though it is possible to survive, lives are forever changed by physical and psychological morbidity.
In our busy trauma center, we see many victims of gun violence. Most of these victims are black and come from specific communities in Boston: Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. Where we live is no coincidence, and neither is the violence that plagues these communities.
Like the incidence of many chronic diseases, black Americans in general, and young black men in particular, are vastly overrepresented among victims of gun injuries. In fact, homicide is the leading cause of death for black men under 44, much of which is related to guns. The American social narrative around gun homicides revolves around the blame and individual responsibility of the victims.
These accounts presuppose that the shot people somehow engage in criminal activity or are otherwise responsible for the circumstances that led to their victimization. These narratives inherently blame the victims, while ignoring much of the American history that has shaped the geographic and social landscape that leads to the scourge of gun violence.
There is a long history of structural racism in the United States with redlining among the most visual and enduring examples of the 20th century. As part of the New Deal, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) was tasked with guaranteeing home loans with the goal of propelling the economy and building the middle class. The FHA has created maps of urban areas to describe investment risk. Areas deemed unsafe and unworthy of government guaranteed home loans were predominantly black or minority population neighborhoods, effectively preventing black families from gaining equity through home ownership and thus devaluing entire communities. These âmarkedâ areas remain among the poorest today, with the lowest homeownership rates, the highest unemployment rates and the worst levels of education.
In our recent study, we examine the incidence of gun violence in Boston. We show that historically demarcated areas like Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan have some of the highest levels of gun violence in the city. These areas are among the most segregated, with high proportions of minority populations and among the highest poverty rates in the city. We then show that this increase in gun violence is the result of the concentrated disadvantage that the Red Line has created in these areas. Our study demonstrates that the lasting impact of racism on the neighborhoods in which people live has led to higher rates of gun violence, especially in urban communities that have been deprived of resources for decades.
Like many designations, race is a social construct. Social designations determine how we think about groups of people and the narratives we construct for these groups, including false beliefs of individual responsibility regarding gun violence. This narrative of crime is reinforced by the continued exclusion of resources in these devalued communities.
Boston is just one of many cities in the United States that have separated their citizens, robbing black communities of wealth and health. The conditions that lead to armed violence have been fostered by government complicit practices. To resolve this pandemic of violence, we must demand responses from governments to this continuing devaluation with remedial actions.
Michael Poulson is a resident physician at Boston Medical Center.