Black and Latino communities face another public health crisis amid the pandemic — gun violence

Dr. Brian Williams from the University of Chicago talks to CNN’s Don Lemon about what it’s like dealing with both the Covid-19 pandemic and the spike in gun violence in the US at the same time.

In the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Dr. Brian Williams works, doctors have been “running” in the past several weeks to try and keep up with the incoming patients.

Some are infected with the coronavirus, which has already claimed more than 136,466 American lives in the past five months and is spreading uncontrollably nationwide.

Many others are victims of gun violence, which has been surging in several US cities including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

“And now you see it’s ramping up in the summer,” Williams said Tuesday during a CNN Tonight In-Depth report on spiking gun violence in many American cities.

The climb in both numbers isn’t just local. As the US began to open up after weeks-long lockdowns, officials from coast to coast reported spikes in shooting incidents and homicides as more people ventured out. Some experts have pointed to police distrust and heightened social unrest following George Floyd’s death as some of the contributing factors to the uptick in crime. Others point to institutional disadvantages burdening Black and Latino communities which have been linked to increases in violence.

And as those communities grieve recent victims of shootings, they’re also facing the ongoing spread of coronavirus, which experts have said has disproportionately affected Latino communities as well as Black communities, who often have unequal access to healthcare and pre-existing conditions.

“For me, personally, it’s hard to see the number of Black victims from gun violence and dealing with Covid infections that are coming to the hospital because that just indicates that there are root causes to these inequities that are being unmasked by the virus, that are being exacerbated by the gun violence,” Williams says.

A holistic approach to ending the violence

The spikes in violence have had a “chilling” effect on communities of color, says Arc of Justice President and Founder Kirsten John Foy.

“I have done several vigils where the narrative and the message coming out of these violent and horrific acts is ‘Black lives matter,'” he said. “And we’re not directing that at an external force like the NYPD or other law enforcement. We’re directing that message internally.”

In New York City alone, where shootings in June increased by 130% compared to the same time last year, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller says about 95 to 100% of the victims were Black and Hispanic people.

“This is having a disparate effect on certain communities and we are not getting the same reaction from the press or the politicians about that disparate effect that we are about other things,” he said.

Tackling the crime, in Foy’s perspective, doesn’t mean just bettering the justice system. It means focusing on other community initiatives as well — like youth programs.

“Many of our young people are suffering from trauma, trauma that’s inflicted by violence. Trauma that originates out of poverty, the conditions that they live under. The absence of adequate housing, the absence of opportunities,” Foy said.

“When it’s easier for a young person who is feeling a sense of despair, hopelessness, when it is easier for them to get their hands on a gun than it is for them to get their hands on an application for a job,” he said, “then that is a recipe for disaster.”

Reforming police while effectively fighting crime

Some New York officials say the surge in violence comes after sweeping reforms that were passed by the City Council last month to hold police accountable amid growing calls from protesters and communities of criminal justice reform. The department’s Anti-Crime unit, officers who were more often on the streets, was also disbanded.

With similar legislation aimed at curbing police brutality passed in cities throughout the country and more officials voicing support for calls to defund — and in some cases, abolish — police departments, police chiefs in parts of the US have reported declining morale, with officers calling out sick or resigning.

“There is a feeling on the street that the police are handcuffed, that they are not out there as aggressively as we were in the past,” NYPD Chief Terence Monahan said this week, speaking to New York radio station 1010 WINS. “(Police) are fearful if they take some proactive-type enforcement.

“The disbanding of Anti-Crime obviously had a huge effect. Those are our best cops out on the street, grabbing guns,” he said. “So there’s a feeling that it’s safe to carry a gun on the street.”

The key, Miller told CNN Tuesday night, is working with communities to address disparities and reform police — but still be able to fight crime effectively.

“This is the deal with police,” he said. “Society has a series of safety nets. There’s health, youth services, mental health services, but throughout history whenever those safety nets have become work or broken or had holes in them, when people start to fall through them, at the bottom there’s always a cop.”

“Those safety nets need to have those holes fixed,” Miller said. “The problem we’re facing right now is we have a crime surge, which requires more cops and we’re about to have less, and requires better deployments and more deployments.”

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