Episode #10: The disease persists
In nine previous installments of “Pandemics and Economics in History,” I’ve shared things I’ve learned in my amateur attempt to understand our current situation by looking at issues of health, healing, hygiene, and economics interacting in the past. Installment nine closed with some puzzlement about the role of race in the history of economics and in how we understand what we see in the present and the past.
This brings us to “Episode #10: The disease persists.”
A number of guests on Community thru Covid have used the language of “epidemic” to describe our on-going relationship with gun-violence in DC and across the country. Similarly, the language of “epidemic” is sometimes employed when speaking of law enforcement violence toward the general population, and in particular to the disproportionate killings of Black and Indigenous people and some other groups.
In the last few weeks, here in DC, we have experienced two mass shootings — defined by CNN as four or more people injured by gunshots at one time. CNN reports that 45 such incidents have occurred in the US since March 16, with 147 mass shootings in the US since the start of 2021.
There is a memorial tomorrow for four members of the Sikh community and four others from Indianapolis killed in a mass shooting last week. There is little pause between one memorial and the next. And, as with many other health issues, gun violence disproportionately affects some in our communities, with Black neighborhoods very hard hit.
As Tia Bell of the Trigger Project and Rachel Usdan of Moms Demand Action told us during the March 31 broadcast, gun violence has health results far beyond individual injuries due to bullets. This long-lasting epidemic has been causing trauma of many kinds in our communities, which drains resources from individuals and groups and serves eventually to fuel further violence.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that US law enforcement killed 984 people in the last year — 274 since the start of 2021. Only minutes after the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis was read, police in Columbus, OH killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black teenager who had called police for help. The child was shot four times in the chest, moments after police arrived on the scene. As with gun violence and with Covid-19, Black and Indigenous communities, and some others, are disproportionately hit by law enforcement violence.
For comparison, also in Columbus, a predominantly white celebration following an Ohio State football game ended in over turned cars and other mayhem, while victims were reportedly told police would “when it is safe to come to the scene.” No one was arrested. No one was shot.
I have not yet dug deeply into economics related to gun-violence and police brutality. Data about who is benefiting will have to wait for another day. But I did find some information on costs:
The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform estimates that gun violence costs the US about $299 billion each year through crime scene response, hospital and rehabilitation, criminal justice, incarceration, victim support, and lost tax revenue.
Everytown for Gun Safety issued a statement in February noting that governments are scrambling to maintain roads and sanitation services, as well as schools and other basics.
At a moment when every dollar counts, our federal, state, and local governments are spending a combined average of $34.8 million each day to deal with the aftermath of gun violence across the country. The total annual bill for taxpayers, survivors, families, employers, and communities is $280 billion.
Put simply, America cannot afford gun violence.
Although these epidemics are experienced unevenly, civic costs will be felt, eventually, by all.
— This was not where I expected this podcast series to go when I first started learning about the Plague of Justinian and the effect of the emperor’s tax policies at the end of the Roman Empire. But it seems this is where we are….or at least where I am at this point.
What we do now can either tend to the disease or continue to cover it up, deny we are experiencing it.
We are writing history.
And while we’re at it, we should consider the famous teaching of psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing: “until you understand white supremacy, everything else will confuse you.”
We are writing history, and we need to understand the basic plotline and act accordingly. What we do now could mean the difference between survival and more death for many.
Resources for Action
Don’t Call the Police — resources by city
What to Do Instead of Calling the Police
Re-imagine alternatives to police
Amnesty International Gun Facts
Collections of materials (maybe dated) and links on gun violence Say This Name
Some Community thru Covid guests working on violence prevention:
Next Level Vision for gun violence prevention
Citations and more data
CNN listing of mass-shootings
Fatal Force, Washington Post project, deaths from law enforcement 2015-present
Ma’Khia Bryant shot to death by police in Columbus OH
The Lantern story about OSU ChittFest
Columbus Dispatch story on ChittFest
National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform — cost of violence website
Everytown for Gun Safety “Economic Cost of Gun Violence“
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