At the very same time that the Trump mob has gathered in Cleveland to promote its fantasy version of what will make America great again, the Center for American Progress has released an important report on the safety, or I should say, lack of safety in America’s urban neighborhoods. And what this report details is that residents in what are referred to as neighborhoods of ‘concentrated disadvantage,’ face significant and, in some cases, overwhelming social and health problems due to dilapidated or damaged housing to the point that “millions of American households don’t meet the most basic definition of a healthy and safe home.”
The barriers to health and safety identified by the CAP report include lead-based paint, inadequate or unusable utilities for heating and cooling, indoor allergens, rodents and vermin, lack of units for persons with disabilities and aging issues and, it goes without saying, affordable housing opportunities. But the report also contains a section on neighborhood violence, and since so much of the violence in economically-impacted neighborhoods involves guns, this report should be read and considered not just by health and welfare advocates, but by Gun Violence Prevention advocates as well. Because as the report points out, neighborhoods with high rates of violence produce residents who suffer from high levels of trauma-produced illnesses, particularly health conditions which affect the ability of children to study, learn and socialize positively with friends.
Most, if not nearly all the research on gun violence tends to focus on the individuals directly impacted by gun violence itself; i.e., the men, women and children who are injured by guns. And despite the almost twenty-year ban on gun research funding, we know a great deal about when and where gun violence occurs. We also know that certain gun-control procedures (comprehensive background checks, safe storage and CAP laws) can mitigate levels of gun violence, even though much research in these areas remains to be done. But where there has been much less research conducted over the years is exactly in the area discussed in this new report, namely, how gun violence affects living conditions for everyone in neighborhoods with high gun violence rates.
I live outside Springfield, MA, a city of 125,000 people with a household median income about half the median income of the rest of the state ($34,000 to $66,000.) The median house value is $143,000, for all of Massachusetts the median house value is $327,000. In other words, Springfield is largely a ghetto town. Last year, Springfield’s gun homicide rate was 11 per 100,000 (the national rate was 3.4,) but half of those shootings took place in one neighborhood – Mason Square – which contains a population of around 6,000 people, which means that in this neighborhood the gun mortality rate per 100,000 was 96!
Do you have any idea what a number like that means? It means that every, single person in the Mason Square neighborhood probably saw a murder occur, or saw the body lying in the street, or heard the cops show up, sirens wailing, or was questioned after the fact. This is what is politely referred to as ‘collateral damage’ when one of our drones blows up a hospital or a day-care center because we thought it was actually where a bunch of ‘bad guys’ were hanging out. But in neighborhoods like Mason Square, this kind of damage goes on all the time. And the Center for American Progress report details how such neighborhood violence becomes yet another health and safety factor which residents of inner-city neighborhoods struggle to overcome.
I want to raise one issue that does not in any way detract from this superb report. Gun violence may be a hallmark of urban centers, but it also occurs in smaller cities and towns, particularly places (read: the South and Appalachia) where there are lots of guns. Most Americans don’t live in inner-city neighborhoods but gun violence affects many of them as well, even if their homes are free of lead except for the lead that’s loaded into their guns.