Fellow Travelers

Friday, March 30, 2018

Fewer Dead Kids

Mass shootings grab our attention and reflect horrifying tragedies. They provoke a reaction. Parents empathize with the parents of those killed. The reaction drives a desire to do anything different, to find a way to keep kids and young adults from dying before their time. People search for any solution, and often are won over by those that sound good.

Everyone wants fewer dead kids.

The understandable desire to want to do something, anything, can easily be redirected into measures that are even more dangerous and would do even more harm than the situation the measures are superficially intended to alleviate. This is true of any new measure or legislation, not just those related to gun violence. Legislation intended to protect sex workers and end human trafficking is putting them at greater risk of rape and murder. The creation of the interstate system ripped up neighborhoods and worsened inner city poverty. Three strikes laws lead to life sentences for minor and often nonviolent offenders.

And then there's the current push for new laws and measures with the goal of fewer dead kids.

The Guardian published an article called "Our manifesto to fix America's gun laws" which says it is written by the Parkland students. A number of ideas are proposed in it, some are okay, like banning bump stocks. Some, like a total ban on semiautomatic firearms, are political nonstarters with their own range of unintended consequences. Others are outright dangerous.

Perhaps chief among those, they say they want to change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement. This entire segment should trigger warning alarms:
“As seen in the tragedy at our school, poor communication between mental healthcare providers and law enforcement may have contributed to a disturbed person with murderous tendencies and intentions entering a school and gunning down 17 people in cold blood. 
We must improve this channel of communication. To do so, privacy laws should be amended. That will allow us to prevent people who are a danger to themselves or to others from purchasing firearms. That could help prevent tragedies such as the Parkland massacre.”
So, destroy patient privacy, or else you don’t want to prevent children from being massacred. Give the police, who do not have a good track record of dealing with the mentally ill, broad access to the health records of the mentally ill. Amend privacy laws to increase law enforcement access to medical records. This should be appalling to anyone familiar with patient privacy. As an example of the unintended consequences of this, law enforcement could check past form 4473s against current medical records showing tox screens or medical marijuana cards and use this to go after gun owners who use medical marijuana.

However, the manifesto ignores this, and buys into the right wing methods popularized by Donald Trump, of stigmatizing the mentally ill as expressly and uniquely violent. This is something that will worsen their targeting for violence and discrimination, especially with patient privacy laws “amended”.

The overwhelming majority of firearms deaths are suicides. Suicide also kills more kids 15-19 than homicides. Homicides as well as firearms deaths have been consistently falling in this age range for years. However, suicides are on the rise. Accoding to CDC data for 2015, homicide by firearms was the cause of death for 190 kids aged 5-14. Suicide was the cause of death for 413 kids in the same age range, including 140 suicides by firearms. Most suicide deaths in that age range were hanging/suffocation. This increased stigma and harsh treatment of the neuro-atypical could very well cause more suicides.

The manifesto also says more school resource officers need to be hired. This is dangerous. Police have killed five times more people this year than have died in mass shootings. The proposals do nothing about that, and instead just increase police interaction with young adults. This has been shown to have measurable negative effects on PoC students. Quoting an article by a Juvenile Court Judge:
After interviewing SROs and girls of color, the researchers found that despite the evidence of disproportionate discipline, there is little training provided to SROs to help them understand how to relate to girls of color. Educators often place SROs in a disciplinary role rather than involving them when the need arises around delinquent conduct. SROs lack the cultural competence, trauma-informed skills, gender-responsive approaches, and knowledge of community-based resources needed to help improve school climate for girls of color. 
Through my work as a judge for a juvenile court in Clayton County, Ga., I have seen that this inappropriate use of law enforcement in schools does not improve safety, but actually compromises students' futures. My county's school system began using SROs in 1995, and our referrals to the court increased 1,200 percent by 2003. By collecting data on school arrests, we discovered that our African-American students—male and female—were 12 times more likely to be arrested than our white students. 
In addition, our school district's graduation rate dropped and juvenile crime rates spiked. Research suggests that arresting students for minor offenses significantly increases the likelihood that they will drop out of school. School is one of the strongest buffers against delinquency, and when kids are pushed out, they do not always spend their time wisely.
Kai Koerber, a 17-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, returned to school after the shooting to see his slain classmates’ empty desks turned into memorials — and a campus swarming with police officers. To him, extra cops around doesn’t mean more people to protect him; it means more chances to become a victim of police brutality. 
Kai worries that police will racially profile students and treat them as “potential criminals,” particularly students of color. 
“It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” he said. “Should we also return with our hands up?”
There are no people of color quoted or whose pictures are shown in the Guardian’s reprinting of the Eagle Eye manifesto.

Increasing the stigma and mistreatment experienced by the mentally ill, especially young adults, putting them under a microscope, militarizing their schools, filling them with armed police, ending patient privacy, ending student privacy, treating the mentally ill like they’re all budding violent mass shooters, increasing PoC interactions with school resource officers who put them on the school-to-prison pipeline, these will increase suicide rates as well as incarceration rates.

These are measures which will disproportionately impact minority children.

These are measures which will disproportionately impact children struggling with mental health problems.

These are dangerous and counterproductive measures.

These are measures which will lead to more dead children, not less.

So, what should we do? What are some workable ideas that can lead to less dead kids?

First, end the drug war and focus on treatment and prevention. The war on drugs is the leading driver of homicides and also of our opiod overdose epidemic and also of our bloated prison population. If this seems too big and too hard, consider that there are 300 to 500 million privately owned guns in the US, nobody knows for sure, and yet people seem to think that regulating or even outright banning these will be easier than ending the drug war. Look at the European countries that are consistently held up as examples of places with drastically lower gun deaths. The “drug war” as we know it in the US, and the prison system as we know it in the US, simply does not exist there. Give this article a read. The numbers are staggering, and the beneficial effects of ending the drug war are also staggering. Liberals are willing to call out the NRA and firearms industry for their political involvement, are they as willing to call out the prison industry and pharmaceutical industry?

Second, demilitarize the police and drastically increase oversight of them. This goes hand in hand with ending the drug war. Police have killed five times as many people in 2018 as have been killed in mass shootings. Police shootings disproportionately impact the black community, as police are far more ready to kill black men than anyone elseA big part of this is the black brute myth where police view even unarmed black men as demons with superhuman strength and speed. So, even banning all civilian owned firearms wouldn't protect unarmed black men, as the police literally think they're magic. Additionally the police, including school resource officers, are predisposed to view black children as criminals and treat them accordingly, feeding into a cycle of violence.

Third, increase mental health funding. This is essential to help fight the suicide epidemic And while we’re at it, increase access to all levels of health care. Infant mortality is far too high in the US, particularly among disadvantaged communities. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate. Heart disease killed 633,842 people in 2015, including 649 children aged birth to 14 and 997 young adults aged 15-24. By comparison, in the same time frame and across all ages, and across accident, suicide, and homicide, 35,486 people died from some form of gun violence. Cancer killed 1,272 children aged birth to 14 in 2015. If we can find cues for some of these diseases, if we can improve treatments, we can save far more lives than any act of gun legislation.

The extensive financial resources that would have to be put into any of the measures recommended in the Parkland manifesto could, if put into other areas, result in a far greater net benefit.

It would mean fewer dead kids.

The question that anti gun liberals need to ask is, what's their motivation? What is the goal?

Is it to score political points against conservatives? To have a victory against the NRA? To restrict sales and use of an object they don't like?

What matters more? Political victories, or the lives of children, the lives of minorities, and of those with mental illness?

Is the goal fewer dead kids?

Finally, our military actions overseas is something many might consider separate from the issue of gun violence in America, but that I think is intertwined with our problems of toxic masculinity and devalued human life. We should slash military funding and dramatically scale back military operations. End the “War on Terror”.

The life of a child is no less valuable for having been born outside of the United States. US military operations have had an incredibly destructive impact on the lives of children in the Middle East.

In 2013, a Pakistani boy named Zubair who was born in 2000 came to the US to speak to Congress. He talked about how he is scared now when the sky is blue, because that’s when the drones come. He and his younger sister were wounded in a drone strike which killed their grandmother as she worked in her garden.

In 2012 a 14 year old boy was killed in another drone strike which struck a group of miners and woodcutters who had gathered for dinner. The drone lingered in the area, and launched a second strike on emergency services and rescuers. This was a “signature strike” where gatherings of military aged males are considered terrorist meetings, even if they’re just workers having a family meal or a family wedding party. These attacks kill kids too, and lead to the mental health issues of anxiety, depression, and PTSD  from their experiences.

It isn’t just Obama’s drone strikes, which were largely ignored or justified clumsily by liberals. In January 2017, an 8 year old American girl was killed in a raid in Yemen approved by Trump. She was shot in the neck and struggled for two hours before dying. That should be hard to read. This is US foreign policy.

“Young women in Fallujah,” they wrote, “. . . are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukemias.”
We should be as horrified by this as we are by the school shootings which are occurring in the US at a decreasing rate. 

We should be as willing to protest and stand up to the military industry as we are to stand up to the NRA. 

We should March for Their Lives too.

After all, the goal is fewer dead kids.

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