OP-ED: We Are Losing Our Children’s Precious Lives to the Gun Violence Epidemic

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Michael D. Bell, M.D.
Michael D. Bell, M.D.

By Michael D. Bell, M.D.

 

On Christmas Day, I started my shift at Children’s Hospital Oakland’s Emergency department and suddenly I heard trauma stat full 1 and 2.

I ran to the trauma bay to see two teenagers, shot just blocks from the hospital. In the organized chaos that followed there were surgeons, anesthesiologists and emergency doctors along with nurses, lab techs, radiology techs, a social worker and a deputy sheriff – all in their assigned places within minutes.

 

Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence at every inner city trauma center.

 

Nationwide in 2014, there was more than 12,500 deaths due to gunshot wounds. This is 3,500 more than all the people whom died in West Africa due to the Ebola epidemic.

 

There were 629 children 0 –to-11-years olds and 2,353 12-to-17-year olds shot or killed in 2014, and Oakland had more than its share.

 

The estimated medical cost for trauma due to gunshots is $2.3 billion. In my 24 years in the ER, my youngest murder victim was11 months, and I have had at least two more under two years of age.

 

Most of the murdered children I see were not the intended victim but innocent bystanders. We have had bullets go through houses, buildings and cars before they struck children.

 

In the next few months, there will be a vaccine tested in West Africa for Ebola. There will be no vaccine for bullets.

 

Every time someone is shot, if the bullets travels two or three inches up or down, or left or right, the outcome could be death, brain death, permanent paralysis, blindness, loss of limb or the need for a colostomy bag.

 

All life is sacred and precious, but our children’s lives are the most precious. It is not just the gang bangers, but mothers, fathers, children and babies who are dying in our streets, and we accept it like it is a natural disease.

 

The hardest part of my job is telling parents that we could not save their child after being shot.

 

This is an epidemic that is destroying our future, for the future is our children. Our acceptance of it is destroying our humanity.

 

We must regain our village mentality. We must think of every victim as a family member. Many say Oakland does not need more police officers – they are wrong.

 

I had a mother in the ER who had just killed her 2-year-old child. I called the police and was told if there was no immediate threat to anybody in the ER, they could not send an officer because they had officers at three other murder scenes.

 

The police are an important part of the solution.

 

I know there is major distrust of police in our community. Like most Black males, I have experienced police abuse first hand. As a college student at a majority white school, I was surrounded by unmarked police cars from three directions and made to lie face down at gunpoint in the middle of the street while an officer held a gun to the back of my head and others frisked me.

 

My only offense was being Black on a campus where a Black person had raped a white coed.

 

Accountability is how you shape a police force to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. You achieve accountability through your elected officials.

 

If they are not committed to make the police force accountable, then vote them out.

 

We also must decrease unemployment so people don’t have to turn to crime to eat and survive.

 

On Sat, May 16, Children’s Hospital and the Oakland City Council, with Board President Lynette McElhaney as the driving force, will host our first annual Stop the Violence Youth Summit.

 

We will speak about solutions to this epidemic and how we can keep our young people safe in their interactions with each other and with the police.

 

Michael D. Bell, M.D. is an attending emergency physician at UCSF Benioiff Children’s Hospital Oakland.

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