This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the effects of violence and trauma on the community. Go to www.oaklandeffect.com for updates on his reporting.
The other day I was walking on the edge of East Oakland and I heard what I am pretty sure was the sound of a gun being fired. It was the middle of the day. I looked around. A couple of other people also stopped, scanned the area, and kept on walking. My first thought was that if what I had heard was, in fact, a gun being fired, I was obviously not the target, and therefore not in danger.
And then I returned to the office and came across an interesting study that made me think again.
It's a study about "stray bullet shootings," written by four academics in Sacramento and published last summer. The researchers collated data about people struck by stray bullets during a one-year period from 2008-09 and analyzed the results. Nationwide, there were 317 people injured by stray bullets (or the material offshoot of a shooting, such as stray glass), 20 percent of whom later died. One of the anecdotes in the study looked at the case of Christopher Rodriguez, who was 10 years old in 2008 when he was shot and disabled by a stray bullet from a robbery taking place across the street from the Oakland studio where he was taking a piano lesson. The stray bullet pierced the wall of his classroom and continued on through Christopher's spleen, kidney and spine, according to the report.
As I've reported here before, between July 1, 2001 and June 30, 2011, 3,829 victims of gunshot wounds were brought to Highland Hospital for treatment. Of those, 3,289 survived, 540 died. Using my admittedly very unscientific approach here, if the rate of death versus injury from the study were extended to these Oakland numbers, then roughly 20 percent of those 540 people, or 106 people, possibly died in Oakland from stray bullets during that decade. In other words, 10 people a year, roughly one per month. Suddenly, the sound of that bullet I heard in East Oakland felt much closer, too close for comfort.
The researchers found that stray bullet shootings contribute to a neighborhood's sense of insecurity. Children, they write, "are taught to avoid crowds and people talking loudly, run when they see weapons, drop to the ground when they hear gunfire while outside, and take cover away from windows if indoors -- in the bathtub, if possible" Two thoughts. The first is that this sounds eerily like a conflict zone. The second is: I wonder if in Oakland, children are actually taught these things at all. Or has the ubiquity of stray bullets become simply commonplace?
Citing a study from the Centers for Disease Control in 2004, the researchers pointed out that the CDC has in the past "advised entire communities to remain indoors at times of particular risk." I doubt that OPD or the city of Oakland has advised people in certain parts of Oakland to do the same, for instance, when it is known that rival gangs are feuding over turf or drugs. But perhaps they should?
The study also informs us that more women are killed by stray gunfire than men, and that of the cases the researchers studied, the 20 people (for whom data was available) who were killed were then survived by 58 children, roughly a 3:1 ratio of survivors to dead. So now, in addition to the victims, we have orphaned children whose parents died traumatic deaths and who themselves may be traumatized.
So what to do? The authors, once again: "The benefits of taking cover indoors would likely be enhanced if residences were routinely equipped with bulletproof safe areas, perhaps steel bathtubs or shower stalls. Protective gear, such as body armor and helmets, could be worn while outdoors." These measures, the authors conceded, might be considered "extreme."
The plague of gun-related violence continues.
Contact Scott Johnson at 510-208-6429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.