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Strasbourg Shooting: At Least 2 Dead, Several Injured And In Critical Condition

The French prosecutor’s office has opened a terror investigation into a shooting in the city of Strasbourg that has left at least two people dead and injured as many as eight others. 

The shooting occurred near the city’s world-famous Christmas markets on Tuesday evening local time.

France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, told reporters that several of the wounded were in critical condition, per The Associated Press. 

A police operation remains underway as the gunman remains at large. 

The European Parliament in Strasbourg was placed on lockdown following the shooting. 

This is a developing story, please check back for updates. 

U.S. Gun Violence Claimed More Lives In 2017 Than Ever: CDC

Nearly 40,000 people were shot to death in the U.S. in 2017, a record number of annual firearm-related fatalities and a return to a gun death rate not seen in more than 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The year’s 39,773 gunshot deaths equated to nearly 109 deaths each day, according to a data from CDC’s WONDER database and first reported by the gun-focused news site The Trace.

Gun deaths have now risen for a third straight year, after more than a decade with little statistical fluctuation. The 2017 numbers increased 2.8 percent from 2016, and topped the previous yearly peak of 39,595 set in 1993 at the height of a U.S. epidemic of firearm-related murder and suicide. The 2017 rate of 12.2 firearm deaths per 100,000 people was the highest since 1996, when it was 12.8 per 100,000.

The 2017 increase in gun deaths was driven largely by rising suicides, which reached a total of 23,854, or around 60 percent of all gun deaths. Following years of relative stability, the rate of firearm suicides has grown steadily since 2007, especially among men ― predominantly white men.

Although gun homicides have fluctuated somewhat in recent years, firearm-related slayings rose slightly last year, reaching 14,542 ― also the highest annual total since the 1990s.

The numbers came amid a year of bloody massacres, including the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at a country music festival in Las Vegas. But the majority of the year’s firearm deaths reflect a more routine form of gun violence, which has taken a disproportionate toll on poorer neighborhoods and communities of color.

Black men accounted for more than half of gun homicide victims in 2017, despite making up less than 7 percent of the population, according to an analysis by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun safety organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D).

The new data also shows that 2017 was the third straight year in which gun deaths outpaced traffic fatalities. It was also the first year that firearm-related deaths surpassed car crash deaths by more than 1,000, according to Giffords.

Troubling as the CDC report is, it says nothing of the tens of thousands of people who each year survive gunshots. CDC data has been less reliable on nonfatal gunshot injuries, and recent reporting has called into question government estimates of a precipitous rise in nonfatal wounds in recent years.

Still, the new CDC figures show why so many Americans are rallying around the cause of gun violence prevention, as demonstrated by midterm election victories by candidates favoring gun reform, Giffords said.

“It’s unacceptable that the number of deaths from shootings keeps escalating while Washington D.C. refuses to even debate policies we know would help save lives,” Giffords said in a statement. “But activism leads to change and come January, more gun safety champions will be joining Congress and making this public health problem a priority.”  

Air Force Missed 6 Chances To Prevent Texas Mass Shooter From Buying Guns

The Air Force failed repeatedly to report information that could have stopped Devin Patrick Kelley, a former U.S. airman who killed 26 people in a church in Texas, from buying a gun.

That’s according to a Department of Defense inspector general’s report released Friday.

While in the Air Force, Kelley was convicted by a general court-martial on two charges of domestic assault against his then-wife and stepson. He was released with a bad conduct discharge in 2014.

Three years later, Kelley opened fire on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. He was armed with weapons he bought legally ― despite his history of domestic violence, which should have blocked him from passing a background check.

Under federal law, convicted domestic abusers can’t buy or possess firearms.

Almost immediately, the Air Force admitted that it had not submitted Kelley’s criminal history information to the FBI database used to determine if an individual can legally buy a gun, called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The Air Force’s admission led to a new law that aims to close loopholes in the system.

Friday’s report is the first to fully detail what went wrong in Kelley’s case.

Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people and injured 20 others in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before dying from a self-infli


Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people and injured 20 others in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Kelley enlisted in the Air Force in 2010, and in 2011, he married Tessa Kelley.

He became extremely abusive, she later told investigators, strangling her, kicking her in the stomach, dragging her by her hair, and occasionally sticking her head under the shower to “water-board” her. Her minor son was also a target of Kelley’s wrath and was hospitalized more than once due to Kelley’s violence.

She reported him to officials, and in November 2012, Kelley pleaded guilty in general court-martial proceedings to assault on his then-wife and stepson. He was sentenced to a reduction in rank, confinement for 12 months and a bad conduct discharge.

Under Department of Defense policy, investigators were required to submit Kelley’s fingerprints to the FBI. The report counts four missed opportunities in which his fingerprints should have been sent and weren’t. The Air Force also missed opportunities to submit its final report on the case to the FBI ― twice. That’s six failures in all.

If the Air Force had passed along Kelley’s information, he would have been banned from purchasing guns.

Instead, Kelley was able to buy four guns after leaving the Air Force, three of which he carried with him into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, 2017.

Kelley married a woman named Danielle Kelley after leaving the Air Force, and it appears he was targeting the church where his mother-in-law, Michelle Shields, worshipped.  

Shields has said Kelley threatened her over text and was possessive and abusive toward her daughter. Kelley’s mother-in-law was not at church, but his wife’s grandmother was among his victims. Before beginning his bloody rampage that morning, Kelley tied his wife to their bed.

After killing 26 and injuring 20 others, Kelley fled the church and later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Kelley is among the many, many, many mass shooters with a history of domestic violence.

In fact, over half of all mass shootings in the U.S. ― incidents in which more than four people are fatally shot ― involve a perpetrator targeting an intimate partner or family member. 

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The Real Reason Why American Lives Are Getting Shorter

A Spanish flu pandemic infected approximately one-third of the global population in 1918. In the United States alone, about 675,000 people died, enough to contribute to a decline in the country’s life expectancy. For a century, this decline remained singular in the annals of American health ― until last month, when the National Center for Health Statistics reported that, between 2016 and 2017, U.S. life expectancy dropped from 78.7 to 78.6 years.

This marks the third consecutive year that life expectancy in the U.S. has decreased, a multiyear drop not seen since that 1918 flu pandemic. And it reflects a longer-term trend in which U.S. life expectancy has lagged relative to other economically comparable countries. Overall, our lives have gotten longer, but at a slower rate than our peers.

Why has U.S. life expectancy slowed to its present reversal? The reasons cited by the National Center for Health Statistics are largely twofold: suicide and opioid deaths. But the real explanation as to why those issues continue to worsen is because America has failed to invest in our nation’s health.

Last year, the number of suicides in the U.S. was the highest it has been in decades: A total of 47,000 suicides occurred that year, up from 45,000 the year before. Suicide is a complex phenomenon; our understanding of its causes is incomplete and continues to evolve. However, we do know that guns are a key driver of suicide deaths. Firearm suicide is responsible for approximately 22,000 deaths each year in the U.S., including the deaths of upward of 950 children and teenagers.

Opioids are an equally urgent threat. The U.S. saw 70,237 drug overdose deaths in 2017, 47,600 of which involved an opioid. These deaths have been driven by the emergence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine — just a few grams can be deadly. 

This marks the third consecutive year that life expectancy in the U.S. has decreased, a multiyear drop not seen since that 1918 flu pandemic.

Both fentanyl and guns have become ubiquitous in the U.S., which has amplified their threat to our health. Fentanyl use, for example, has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2016, synthetic opioids were linked to almost 50 percent of total opioid-related deaths, a significant increase from 2010, when they were linked with just 14 percent of opioid-related deaths. This is due largely to a thriving black market in which the drug is manufactured overseas and shipped into the country. Guns are in ample supply too, due to our uniquely permissive gun laws, and the actions of politicians and special interests who have worked to keep this status quo in place. Their efforts have been so successful that there are now more guns than people in America.

These causes are important. There is a temptation to think gun suicides and opioid deaths just “happen,” that they are a collection of isolated tragedies brought on by fate or poor decisions. We often see this thinking in the wake of gun violence, when politicians say that nothing can prevent such tragedies, that they are an unavoidable consequence of living in a dangerous world, and that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” Many factors play a role in causing gun violence, but at the heart of this epidemic is easy access to guns. Our research team, for example, looked at gun laws in 10 countries and found a link between laws restricting gun availability and a decrease in gun deaths. If guns’ ubiquity drives gun violence, politics — and the currents of power and culture that inform it — lies at the heart of why our country is home to so many guns, and so much violence.

A similar range of factors accounts for the proliferation of opioids. In addition to the spread of fentanyl, the opioid epidemic is a product of the overprescribing of opioids, and the widespread availability of cheap heroin. Taken together, these causes speak to a core truth about the contemporary epidemics of gun suicides and opioid deaths: They do not just “happen.” Rather, they emerge from the social, economic, and political context of contemporary American life. Unless we address this context, we cannot hope to solve these problems.

But have we not already addressed these challenges by investing in health? After all, the U.S. spends more on health than any other country in the world. Why, then, do we have a life expectancy that suggests a society convulsed by plague?

The reason is that we do not actually invest in health. We invest in health care. The vast majority of our health spending goes to doctors, medicines and cutting-edge treatments that help us when we are sick. Far less goes to the social, economic and environmental factors that determine whether or not we get sick in the first place. These factors are shaped by a network of policies and institutions that promote health by providing basic public goods. These goods include clean air and water, safe neighborhoods, high-quality public education, and a fair economy. Without these goods, we cannot be healthy.

There is a temptation to think gun suicides and opioid deaths just ‘happen,’ that they are a collection of isolated tragedies brought on by fate or poor decisions.

If someone grows up in an economically depressed area, without access to a good education, a stable job or quality health care, if she sustains a work injury and is overprescribed opioids and develops an addiction she cannot afford to sustain, and so finds herself buying the cheapest heroin she can find, and fatally overdoses after consuming a batch laced with fentanyl, is it any surprise, in this context, that she came to such an end? Yet in our society, we are much more likely to ascribe her death to her own poor judgement than we are to consider the many external factors that put her in such a desperate position. We are much more likely to think “People with addiction should behave better” than we are to think “How can we create a society where addiction and despair is not the default way of life for so many people?”

It is not easy to embrace the latter perspective. We like to find simple causes for the effects we see. It is easier to think people shoot themselves simply because they are sad, that they overdose because they too greedily pursue the pleasure drugs can bring. But this does not reflect reality. Our modern epidemics are actually the products of immense complexity. Believing otherwise has led to decades of disinvestment in the public goods that create health.

We have embraced the idea that simply maximizing individual freedom at all costs is the key to a better life, and that sickness is just a failure of people to take responsibility for themselves. We have run this experiment while many of our peer countries have indeed invested in health. That our life expectancy now lags behind theirs reflects the dead end our path has led us to. If we do not start investing in health, and the conditions that allow it to flourish, we will not be able to stop current epidemics, or prevent the rise of new ones.  

Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, is professor and dean at the Boston University School of Public Health. His latest book, Well: What we need to talk about when we talk about health, will be published in May 2019. Follow him on Twitter: @sandrogalea.

Gun Violence Has Cut More Than 4 Years Off The Life Expectancy Of Black Americans: Study

Gun violence has shortened the life expectancy of Americans by nearly 2.5 years, with shootings driving down the average lifespan of black Americans by almost twice as much as that of white Americans, according to a study published this week.

The new research, led by a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, examined federal data on gun deaths between 2000 and 2016. The study determined that black Americans have lost 4.14 years of life expectancy due to gun violence, while white Americans lost 2.23 years.

Researchers found stark racial differences in the manner of death, as well as the ages at which people were killed in shootings. Black Americans died much more frequently due to homicide, often at young ages, with many dying before the age of 20. For white Americans, gun deaths due to suicide were more prevalent, taking place more frequently among older individuals.

The study didn’t measure data for Hispanic Americans due to broader limitations in how federal data is reported that makes it difficult to accurately differentiate between Hispanics and non-Hispanics. It also didn’t measure data for other racial or ethnic groups.

The research further underscores the severe toll of gun violence in the U.S., along with the longstanding glaring racial disparities in how it affects people.

Between 2015 and 2016, a total of 27,394 people died in firearm homicides in the U.S., while an additional 44,955 died in suicides, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.

Researchers have previously tried to calculate how these sorts of deaths weigh on the overall life expectancy of Americans. A separate study conducted in 2000 using more limited data set concluded that shootings reduced the average American lifespan by about 100 days, with a significant gap between black and white men: Black men lost 361.5 days, while white men lost 150.7 days.

That racial gap remains, according to the study published this week. But the firearm-related life expectancy loss for all Americans is nine times greater in the new study than in the 2000 study. 

We know that gun violence is not a unidimensional problem, it’s a multidimensional problem that needs solutions on two ends.
Dr. Bindu Kalesan, Boston University School of Medicine

With those numbers in mind, it’s imperative that elected officials and members of the public look for solutions, said Dr. Bindu Kalesan, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of community health sciences at Boston University.

“We know that gun violence is not a unidimensional problem, it’s a multidimensional problem that needs solutions on two ends,” said Kalesan. She specifically stressed the need for further investment in local gun violence prevention programs, which can be more carefully tailored to the needs of a community.

More robust federal gun policy is also necessary, said Kalesan, though she conceded that routine interpersonal shootings and suicide ― the two forms of gun violence responsible for the biggest hit to life expectancy, according to the study ― are also among the most difficult to control with sweeping firearm regulations.

Still, there’s room for improvement. For decades, policymakers have sought to address shootings in urban communities by ramping up law enforcement. Although crime has fallen over the past few decades, that sort of approach has done little to address the broader social inequities that often accompany elevated levels of gun violence, added Kalesan.

“We are able to send stem cells into space, but we are unable to really address the social problems that we face in our society,” she said.

And when it comes to the broader debate about gun violence, it’s important to remember that gun deaths are only one part of the equation, said Kalesan.

“One thing people don’t realize is that 30 percent of [those who get shot] die, but 70 percent survive,” she said. “We have to consider them as well.”

How Mowing Overgrown Lots Reduced Shootings In Philadelphia Neighborhoods

Fixing up overgrown, vacant and blighted lots in Philadelphia did more than beautify neglected areas of the city. Those improvements reduced firearm shootings ending in serious injury or death, according to new research.

“It’s not super costly. You can rely on locate local contractors and community groups to clean and green a lot. The cost of maintaining it is fairly low,” said John MacDonald, one of the authors of the new research and a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. 

This cleaning-and-greening strategy may have the potential to save lives.

Gun violence isn’t equally distributed across cities. Instead it’s concentrated in neighborhoods or even city blocks. In aging deindustrialized cities like Philadelphia, those are often the same city blocks that have run-down and vacant lots.

In the new study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health this week, researchers worked with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s LandCare program to give randomized blighted lots either a full remediation treatment — meaning they cleaned the lot, put down grass seed, erected a picket fence and then maintained the property — or a partial treatment involving trash pickup and mowing only. Then they measured shootings before and after the remediation using Philadelphia Police Department data between 2011 to 2015. Untouched blighted lots served as a control group. 

“Doing the full intervention, or doing at least a partial intervention of mowing and picking up trash, you see a significant reduction in shootings,” said MacDonald, noting that the full-treatment greened areas saw about a 7 percent reduction and the mowed areas saw about a 9 percent reduction.  

The shootings didn’t just relocate around the corner or a few blocks away, either. “We didn’t see any evidence that crime was displaced,” MacDonald said. Instead, shootings in the surrounding area went down ― not significantly ― but enough to suggest that greening and cleaning might have some spillover benefits.

While mass shootings garner headlines, the reality is that more routine urban gun violence makes up the majority of the 14,000 firearm homicides and tens of thousands of nonfatal shootings that happen in the U.S. every year. In Philadelphia, which has a higher homicide rate than New York or Los Angeles, there were 6,000 shootings between 2011 and 2015.

‘Greening’ Is Spreading To Other Cities

The University of Pennsylvania’s latest study builds on years of research at the institution showing a link between remediating blighted urban spaces and reduced crime.

The relatively uncontroversial nature of cleaning vacant lots may make it an especially appealing option for cities with a combination of decaying vacant properties and gun violence. 

Cities like Cincinnati, Houston and New Orleans have been inspired to start cleanup and maintenance programs of their own.

“In the world of gun violence prevention for cities, there aren’t a lot of options out there,” Charles Branas, one of the authors of the new study, told PBS News Hour in 2017. “This is an apolitical option. The gun lobby has no opposition to this stuff. It’s not in any way changing legal possession of firearms.”

Marc Zimmerman, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health who has studied community greening in Flint, Michigan, said that while cleaning and greening might not be controversial in the gun control debate, it can spark a different controversy: fears about gentrification.

Still, he thought the benefits outweighed the costs, at least in the short term. “Living in places with violence has all kinds of negative health consequences,” he added.

MacDonald noted the limitations of the intervention. “You couldn’t green a city and just eliminate the chronic problems of gun violence that are highly concentrated in city blocks just by doing remediation to places,” he said, but added that there are other reasons, including potential health and safety benefits, for remediating vacant spaces that extend beyond gun violence.

“This is the kind of intervention that I’d like seen evaluated, but also done in cities across the country that have blight problems and vacant land problems,” he said.

A Different Kind Of ‘Broken Windows’ Philosophy

While the researchers can’t know for certain why the intervention worked, MacDonald explained that it’s consistent with “broken windows theory,” or the idea that there’s a connection between abandoned and unkept property and crime.

Fewer signs of decay can change the functionality of a space. If, instead of avoiding an overgrown and vacant space, people are using it and the areas around it for get-togethers and social gatherings, surveillance improves. There’s also a greater sense of social cohesion and more opportunity for the space to be used for socializing than for illegal activities.

Although the term “broken windows” is inextricably tied to the New York City Police Department’s aggressive policing policy ― where officers cracked down on petty crimes like vandalism and public urination in an effort to deter more serious offenses, and disproportionately targeted minorities in the process ― the theory had a life before the NYPD co-opted it.

“A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed,” goes the famous “Broken Windows” article published in The Atlantic in 1982, co-written by a criminologist and a political scientist. 

“What’s so striking is that the article was actually much more about broken windows than it was about bad people,” said Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist and author of the book Palaces for the People, which explores how investing in social infrastructure can help restore civic life and fight inequality. 

But law enforcement often neglects that nuance. Instead of focusing on improving abandoned properties, cutting weeds and literally fixing the broken windows cited in the article, policymakers jumped right to fighting crime, Klinenberg explained.

“For decades now, we have fought crime by trying to crack down on people. By punishing people,” he said. “What we have not done is invest in places and rebuild places where crime is concentrated.”

The Revivalists Urge Gun Reform With ‘Shoot You Down’

The Revivalists typically tackle songs about love, life and loss. But on their new album, “Take Good Care,” they dive into a more serious subject matter: gun violence.

Their hope? To help spread the word and inspire gun reform in America, particularly during a year that has seen more than 300 mass shootings in the U.S. 

“I remember where we were when the Newtown shooting happened. We were in Asheville, North Carolina, for a Warren Haynes Christmas Jam,” guitarist Zack Feinberg told HuffPost at Build Series, referring to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. “Somebody saw the news and said, ‘A bunch of children have been murdered. There’s a school shooting of kindergarteners.’ Everybody in the world was absolutely aghast. It was completely senseless.”

The Revivalists' Zack Feinberg (left) and David Shaw. "Shoot You Down" appears on their new album, "Take Good Care."

Build Series/Jammi York

The Revivalists’ Zack Feinberg (left) and David Shaw. “Shoot You Down” appears on their new album, “Take Good Care.”

Feinberg said that with the sheer number of mass shootings in the United States, it’s easy to become “desensitized to it.”

“The message we’re trying convey is that it’s not OK,” he said. “We’ve got to have change in our laws in this country to have sensible gun reform. And that’s something we stand very firmly for.”

Singer David Shaw said it’s important for the band members to use their platform to raise awareness. 

So can we for once just live with no guns? / And I tell, tell no lie. / We’re not born to just die.
“Shoot You Down” by the Revivalists

“We have microphones,” Shaw said. “Not everyone has microphones. We’ve got to be able to do that because you have a lot of people with microphones doing the opposite. We’re just trying to speak our heart for what’s right, to push the needle for change in the right way.”

“Shoot You Down” is available on 7-inch vinyl. For every purchase, a donation will be made to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

Listen to “Shoot You Down” below.

Rep.-Elect Lucy McBath Marks 6 Years To The Date Her Son Jordan Davis Was Murdered

Rep.-elect Lucia “Lucy” McBath, who won her race for Congress in Georgia’s 6th District earlier this month, marked the day her teenage son was fatally shot six years later on Twitter. 

McBath, a Democrat, declared victory in Georgia after defeating GOP incumbent Karen Handel in the tight midterm race in the state’s Republican-leaning congressional district. 

On Friday, McBath shared a powerful message noting the day her son was killed on Nov. 23, 2012, and being thrust into the title of a “reluctant activist.”

“My son was murdered exactly six years ago to date,” she wrote. “Every year, I am reminded that the title ‘reluctant activist’ is painfully accurate.”

Davis, 17, was killed on a Black Friday in 2012 after he and his friends were confronted by Michael Dunn over loud music in their vehicle at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Prosecutors say Dunn, then 45, fired 10 times into the vehicle, killing Davis. He was convicted of first-degree murder in a retrial and sentenced to life in prison without parole in October 2014. 

Making headlines as the “loud music murder,” Dunn, who is white, claimed self-defense in the killing that sparked nationwide calls for justice regarding gun control laws. It also gave rise to continued national conversation on the dangers of racism and racial bias. 

McBath has remained in the national spotlight for her work as a gun control advocate since her son’s death. She served as a spokesperson for Everytown Gun Safety and for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, among other advocacy-related roles. 

On her campaign site, McBath advocated for “common sense gun violence protection” noting that after the Parkland school shooting, she could “no longer sit on the sidelines.”

The Rep.-elect concluded her Twitter thread adding that she “will always be a mother on a mission.”

“This is why my work is not over, but just beginning,” she wrote. “My life’s work will only end when American families have the basic security of safety. Until then, I will always be a mother on a mission.”

Hospitals Are Trying To Do What Politicians Haven’t: Stop Gun Violence

CHEVERLY, Md. ― When Che Bullock awoke in a hospital in August 2013, the first thing he felt was grateful to be alive. He’d been stabbed 13 times outside a nightclub in the Washington, D.C., area and taken by helicopter to a medical center, where doctors performed lifesaving surgery.

Bullock’s sense of relief quickly faded, first into physical pain and anxiety, then into fear and finally into a rage toward his attackers.

“It was kind of like they put a hit out on me,” said Bullock, now 30. He recalled friends coming to his hospital room to stand guard.

Just days after the stabbing, Bullock had recovered enough to return home to the Washington neighborhood where he said he’d had a beef with the individuals who’d tried to kill him. Bullock was prepared to defend himself but also ready to hit back.

But before he could act, Bullock got a call from Joseph Richardson Jr., a University of Maryland associate professor, offering him an alternative. Richardson, now 50, invited him to participate in a study on young black men who had been shot or stabbed more than once ― repeat victims of violence sometimes referred to as “frequent flyers.” Bullock was hesitant, thinking Richardson might be working with police, but in the end he decided to sign up.

That study ultimately saved his life.

Gun violence is an American crisis that leads to more than 33,000 deaths each year ― about a third of which are homicides ― and tens of thousands more nonfatal shootings, according to federal data. Preventing that violence has been a topic of debate for decades, with politicians making glacial progress. But Richardson and others have decided to pursue another route, offering patients a glimpse into a less violent future that isn’t hampered by the political stalemate.

In September 2017, Richardson launched the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program out of the Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, where Bullock was treated. The program, which arose from Richardson’s initial study, takes a public health approach, treating violence like a disease that can both be spread and “inoculated” against, said Richardson, who now serves as co-director.

Che Bullock, left, and Joseph Richardson Jr. are helping patients find a path away from violence through their work at t

Thomas Bacho/University of Maryland

Che Bullock, left, and Joseph Richardson Jr. are helping patients find a path away from violence through their work at the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program in Maryland.

The model is the area’s first hospital-based violence intervention program, or HVIP, and is one of about 30 accredited programs in the U.S., with a few more in development and a handful operating internationally.

HVIPs target the structural causes of violence ― many of which spring from broader racial and socioeconomic inequalities ― giving survivors tools to make lifestyle changes that can prevent them from being re-victimized or from perpetrating further violence. Research shows HVIPs have been effective at reducing violent injury and death, which can lead to substantial savings on health care and criminal justice costs.  

Richardson’s program, which also serves victims of stabbings and other traumas, has seen promising results in its first year, but it doesn’t yet have enough data for a full analysis on results. Of the more than 100 patients so far enrolled, none has been re-hospitalized for violent injury, he said. Before the program’s launch, one-third of all violently injured patients they saw had been hospitalized two or more times before.

Save A Life And Pay It Forward

Bullock’s road to rehabilitation began in 2013 with a simple question.

“One of the first things Dr. Richardson asked me is, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’” Bullock recalled of their first meeting. Richardson, at the time, was working one-on-one with some survivors, helping them find social and mental health services. 

Bullock didn’t know how to answer the question, but Richardson, who has a doctorate in criminal justice, had an idea. He invited Bullock to speak about his personal experience to an African American studies class he was teaching on the modern Jim Crow at the University of Maryland. Richardson believed Bullock’s life story was important; now he just needed to persuade Bullock to share it.

The following week, Bullock headed to campus to tell his story ― ending with his attack ― in front of more than 100 students packed in a room.

“You could drop a pin in the auditorium, I guess that’s how engaged they was,” Bullock said.

On the drive home, Bullock’s mind raced. His presentation was a success, and the positive response from students left him considering other possibilities for his future. Perhaps he could become a motivational speaker?

But just before he got on the freeway, someone shot at his car. The bullet missed him but shattered a window, leaving him with a gash on his forearm. It had only been a few weeks since his stabbing, and Bullock once again found himself traumatized and thinking about retaliation.

“I even remember finding out who did it,” he said.

Bullock called Richardson to tell him what had happened. Richardson urged Bullock to meet with him before doing anything reckless. They met again and began to discuss the factors that had led Bullock to be targeted in the first place. 

“I started to think about how I was getting my money, what were the forces of my financial capital,” he said. “Of course, it was drugs.”

Richardson suggested he try something different and cut him a check for $300 to speak to his class again.

“I made $300 in an hour, and the hustler in me is, like, how can I turn this $300 into $1,500?” Bullock said. “When I started getting more and more speaking engagements, I really didn’t think about retaliating too much because I was focused.”

Bullock and Richardson have helped more than 100 patients in the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program'

Che Bullock

Bullock and Richardson have helped more than 100 patients in the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program’s first year of operation. None has been re-hospitalized for violent injury.

For the first time, Bullock saw a different path for his future. He continued to work with Richardson over the next four years, helping Richardson develop the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program. When the program launched last year, Richardson hired Bullock to recruit survivors and serve as their case manager.

“When I walk into the rooms now, the first thing I ask is, what’s the plan? What do you want to do with your life?” Bullock said. “Most guys don’t know.”

Bullock meets with patients daily while they’re in the hospital. When they’re released, he follows up, helping to set up goals and identify needs. Bullock also works with patients to develop “coping mechanisms” to manage the stress that can stem from trauma, and he urges them to get mental health treatment, which he said can be challenging because of a broader stigma in the African American community against seeking help.

After a near-death experience, experts say there’s a “golden moment” in which survivors are especially receptive to guidance. Bullock builds trust and rapport with the patients and then asks them to join the program. Some turn him down, but so far the program has an enrollment rate of over 90 percent, he said.

Bullock also works to reach out to the friends and loved ones of survivors, which is integral to the model’s success, Richardson said. 

“If violence is a disease and this person who was injured was infected, you’re trying to inoculate this person by giving them mental health services and getting them a job, but if you’re sending that person back to a network of people who are still infected, what have we really solved?” he said.

Investing In Prevention

It costs about $300,000 a year to run an HVIP serving about 100 patients, said Kyle Fischer, policy director for both the Maryland program and the National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs.

The Capital Region program has so far not had trouble securing funding for the immediate future, said program director Dawn Moreland. But with around 740 survivors of violent injury coming through the hospital each year on average, she said, additional funding could help them expand to meet the needs of the community.

“The volume will always be there, unfortunately,” said Moreland. “We’ll always have more clients to serve.”

There’s reason to believe HVIPs are a worthy investment. Gun violence deaths and injuries cost a total of $229 billion each year, according to a 2012 study that measured direct spending on law enforcement, criminal justice and health care related to shootings, as well as indirect costs like lost wages and the effects on victims’ quality of life.

In other words, the average cost to taxpayers for a single gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000, according to the study.

A lot of the guys tell us that this is the first time someone actually cared what happened to them.
Dr. Sean Benoit, co-director of the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program

Black men account for nearly half of gun homicide victims each year, but make up only 6 percent of the population, according to a 2018 report by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

This phenomenon is often referred to as “murder inequality.” But the racial disparities of gun violence are also evident in the nearly unending stream of nonfatal shootings at the hospital, said Dr. Sean Benoit, a Prince George’s Hospital Center trauma surgeon and co-director of Richardson’s program. 

“These guys come in after getting shot, we send them back out, they get shot and they come back in. So we’re just patching them back up,” Benoit said. “We have many patients who leave here not even knowing what surgery we did.” 

Many survivors who find themselves at the Maryland hospital have normalized violence, seeing prison or death as acceptable or even inevitable, said Bullock.

In recent years, Benoit has made a habit of bringing his anatomy book to patients to show them how he’s operated. He said it helps them understand how close they may have come to death. Small gestures like that can make huge differences, said Benoit.

“A lot of the guys tell us that this is the first time someone actually cared what happened to them, that this is the first time they have spoken to anyone who cares if they finish high school or get a GED or go to community college or get a job,” he said.

Do HVIPs Really Work?

Studies indicate that HVIPs prevent violent injury, but the research has been limited in size and scope, often due to relatively small sample sizes and narrow sets of measured metrics, experts say.

But even in small studies, researchers are seeing success. By providing wraparound care to survivors, participants receive more opportunity for job placement, educational advancement, housing and even legal aid, said Rachel Myers, research coordinator of the violence intervention program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“It’s a matter of identifying people who have gone through this recent traumatic injury and really connecting with them in a human way,” Myers said.

For survivors, just having someone believe in them can help them become productive members of society, she said.

Myers, who contributed to a study on HVIP outcomes, said she’d like to see future analysis that pulls from broader pools of clients and attempts to gauge how the programs are tied to socioeconomic and psychosocial factors.

Richardson is also hoping to help expand the body of evidence on the effect of HVIPs. In the coming months, he said, he plans to begin the largest randomized study ever conducted on the effectiveness of HVIPs, which will include a sample of as many as 800 patients at participating programs in the Washington metro area.

A New Lease On Life

T.J. King, 35, grew up just a few blocks away from Bullock. He was hanging out in the neighborhood with friends in June 2017 when two men pulled up in a car and fired 56 times, striking five people, including King. All of them survived, but King’s injuries were the worst. A round entered his back and came out through his chest, breaking two ribs and nearly hitting his lung and heart. After returning home from Prince George’s Hospital Center, King got a call from Bullock, asking him to join an earlier iteration of the Capital Region program.

“I actually talked in that group about what happened to me, and how I felt and what I was going through,” King said, explaining that he had never expressed himself like that before. “I probably didn’t tell [Bullock] this, but I went home after and cried for like two hours.”

Just months after King’s shooting, his mother succumbed to Stage 4 cancer. King said he felt the best way to honor her was to continue improving his life. He stuck with the program and eventually got a job at Prince George’s Hospital Center transporting patients. He also informally meets with survivors when Bullock is off duty. King said he hopes to join the program as a full-time employee soon.

T.J. King, left, and Che Bullock at the Prince George's Hospital Center. Bullock helped recruit King into the Capital Re

Che Bullock

T.J. King, left, and Che Bullock at the Prince George’s Hospital Center. Bullock helped recruit King into the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program after King was shot in 2017.

None of it has been easy, said King. It took a while to come to the realization that it wasn’t worth seeking revenge against the people who shot him. King has also had to leave behind friends who weren’t ready to give up the streets, he said.

But along with those changes have come a newfound positivity and passion for life. King woke up one morning a few months ago and decided he wanted to go fishing, he said. He’d never fished before, but he’d always been interested in it. He watched a few videos on casting and baiting, bought two fishing rods and headed to the Potomac River the next day. He caught his first fish.

Over the past few months, King’s love of fishing has grown. He’s taught his friends how to fish, including the ones who were shot alongside him last year. Sometimes he’ll take kids from the neighborhood to his favorite spots.

Before he got shot, King never thought he’d be the kind of person who gets up at the crack of dawn just to sit by the water for hours, hoping for a fish to bite. Now there are fishing rods in his trunk at all times, he said, a reminder that anyone can transform their life ― even if they need a little help doing it.

“The same way we got turned around, it’s possible the next person can turn around,” King said.

Girl Who Wrote Acclaimed Essay On Gun Violence Is Killed By Stray Bullet

Sandra Parks, 13, who wrote an award-winning essay on gun violence, was killed after someone fired into her home in Wisconsin.

The girl, who once wrote, “Little children are victims of senseless gun violence,” became a victim of gun violence on Monday night in Milwaukee while sitting in her home with family members. 

“Sandra did not deserve this,” Parks’ sister Tatiana Ingram tearfully told local ABC affiliate WISN 12. “Sandra was an amazing person. She was so bright. She was so beautiful and full of life.” 

In 2016, Parks wrote “Our Truth” for a Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest, earning third-place honors, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported

Parks, then a sixth-grader, read an excerpt of her essay on Wisconsin Public Radio in early 2017. (Read the entire essay here.) 

“We need to rewrite our story so that faith and hope for a better tomorrow, is not only within us, but we believe it and we put into actions,” she read in part on air. 

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett decried gun violence in the city and across the U.S. on Tuesday. 

“It’s just insanity,” he told reporters. “You’re never going to solve a fight with a gun. You’re never going to settle the score with a gun. But you see it over and over and over again in this country.”

The Milwaukee Police Department said in a press release on Tuesday that a 26-year-old male person of interest was taken in custody in connection with Parks’ death. 

It’s unclear whether her home was targeted, police said. Parks died at the scene. 

Milwaukee prosecutors reportedly charged two men on Wednesday in connection to the shooting.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office charged Isaac Barnes, 26, with first-degree reckless homicide, among other charges, according to the Associated Press

Untrell Oden, 27, has been charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon butwas not accused of participating in the shooting, the AP reported. 

Barnes and Oden had not had a bond hearing as of Wednesday, according to the AP. 

“The motive is still being determined,” said Sgt. Sheronda Grant, a spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Police Department, according to The New York Times

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Parks’ mother, Bernice Parks, said her daughter was “everything this world was not,” in a video by the Journal Sentinel

“My baby was not violent. My baby did not like violence,” Bernice Parks said of her daughter, her middle child. “Everybody that she knew, everybody that came her path, she made them happy.” 

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