08/12/1978 – a young African American male, mid-to late 20s, was shot and killed at the #6 train subway station in the Bronx, NY.
09/30/2003 – “19-year old, Unishun Mollette was shot twice in the back earlier this week while sitting in a car. According to hospital workers, Mollette, who was a student at Schenectady Community College, was dropped off at the hospital where she died by several men who quickly got back in their car and sped away.” —News 12 Westchester
09/22/2013 – 27-year old, Michael Vandross, was shot and killed outside building 15 of the Arbor Crest Apartment Homes in Greensboro, NC. —www.greensboro.com
Since 1978, my family and I have lost several family members to gun violence. The aforementioned deceased above were also my family members who we now regard as our angels. The first incident chronologically listed above was my late great Uncle Murray; followed by the tragic loss of my youngest sister, Unishun Mollette; and last victim was my cousin, Michael Vandross. Although I continuously pray to God to protect my family and I from further violence, I eventually became a victim of gun violence and almost lost my life during a domestic violence dispute. I have also lost several childhood friends to gun violence, while growing up in the South Bronx (Bronx, NY) during the 80s and 90s. It was during those dark moments and spending time alone as a child, that I would often wonder if anyone cared about our children [loved ones] who’ve fallen victim to gun violence. For me, it appeared that both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations weren’t interested to help address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the crack epidemic and certainly not the rampantly growing gun violence issue that plagued many inner-city communities. Not to mention all of the unaccounted police violence that ravaged many poor Black and brown communities nationwide. We were largely ignored…and still to present day seemingly remain sort of invisible.
Things became a little more of a priority with the the tragic events that have occurred in recent years such as the Sandy Hook and Parkland shooting incidents. The latter of which occurred during an afternoon on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. 17 people were killed. The Parkland community and the kids involved in fighting for gun reform had received so much outpouring of support, national media attention and donations. But many of us, African Americans, felt left out of the gun debate and wondered why no one listened to the crying Black mothers being interviewed by media outlets about their loved ones dying to gun violence for many years. Today, there is a mass international attention for a movement to reform gun laws and now many parents and guardians are talking to their children about gun violence. However, many of us in the Black communities remembered when parents and guardians did their best to protect their children from gun violence caused by civilians and gangs but also from police violence. Since we live in a country where guns are used to kill about 10 times more black children than white children each year, one would think there would be a gun policy reform. We didn’t amass national or international media attention and there was no national movement for gun reform. Perhaps, society doesn’t see Black people as humans and/or that gun violence affects all Americans.
It wasn’t until an 11-year old African American girl, Naomi Wadler, a young gun control activist who took the stage at March for Our Lives in Washington, DC on Saturday March 25th, 2018, echoing the words “Never again” in front of millions of people. She stated “Black girls have been left out of the gun violence conversations far too long. I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news…I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls that fill a potential.” I, too, represent both African American girls and women and the nearly 54,000 Hispanics killed with guns since 1999. According to a recent article on www.vpc.org (Violence Policy Center), “each year on average more than 31,000 Hispanics are killed with guns in the United States… ages 15-24, homicide ranked as second leading cause of death.”
As a former victim of gun violence and Emergency Medicine (EM) Physician, my spirit was shattered at hearing about the recent death of a woman of color and fellow EM Physician, Dr. Tamara O’Neal. November 19, 2018 Dr. O’Neal was shot and killed by her ex fiancé in a parking lot adjacent to her Emergency Department. She was on her way to work her shift when her ex fiancé killed her. Did you know that half of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners or ex partners? I became instantly saddened and angered. Instead of me not doing anything, I decided to take a stand. Several days ago, I became an Advisory Board Member for the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFRIM). AFFIRM is a non-profit corporation compromised of physician leaders who seek to diminish human and financial costs of firearm injury in the USA. In honor of Dr. O’Neal and with the blessing of her family, we are collecting donations for the “Dr. Tamara O’Neal Research Fund” which will go towards much-needed studies that address the intersectional issues of gun violence and domestic violence as it affects people of color. Gun violence is a public health concern. I treat gunshot wound victims at every shift in my Emergency Department and it is overwhelmingly devastating.
As a medical professional, I have a responsibility to speak out on the prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths as a public health issue because in 2016, an average of 105 people in the U.S. died from firearms each day. I grateful to be a part of a team of clinicians and researchers that strongly advocates in reducing firearms injuries and deaths while incorporating firearm violence prevention programs and counseling.
St. Barnabas Hospital