Gun violence has become an epidemic among San Francisco's African American boys and young men
The number of patients with gunshot wounds admitted to San Francisco General Hospital's trauma center has more than doubled over the past five years -- a sign of what the hospital's chief of medicine calls a genocide on the city's streets.
In 2003, 110 gunshot victims were admitted to the hospital. Last year, that figure spiked to 228.
The dramatic rise isn't mirrored in the city's homicide rate because fewer gunshot victims are dying thanks to advancements in medicine, a hospital official said. In 2003, 70 people were killed in the city. Last year, 85 were killed following a 10-year high in homicides the year before.
Dr. Andre Campbell, testifying before a Board of Supervisors committee meeting Monday, said gun violence has become an epidemic among the city's African American boys and young men.
"The rising tide of violence is staggering," he said, adding that while African Americans make up 6.5 percent of the city's residents, they comprise at least 70 percent of gunshot victims. "I characterize that as a genocide."
The hospital's ability to save more gunshot victims means more of them are left with spinal cord injuries or other debilitating health problems, he said. In 2003, five gunshot victims treated at San Francisco General were left with spinal cord injuries. Last year, that figure rose to 13.
"The cost of spinal cord injuries is staggering to our patients," Campbell said. "There is a physical, emotional and spiritual cost that cannot be measured in a dollar amount for these patients and their families."
It also means a tremendously burdensome financial weight on the victims' families, as well as on the city itself. Campbell cited a study from the University of Alabama's Spinal Cord Injury Center that found that care for a quadriplegic person costs about $2.9 million over the course of a lifetime.
But it's predominantly people who are poor and without resources who are served by the hospital's Trauma Recovery Center, said its director, clinical psychologist Alicia Boccellari.
"Violence and poverty go hand in hand," she said. "We know that violence robs people of their sense of safety in the world, disrupts peoples' lives and their relationships. It damages the spirit."
During the past four years, the recovery center, which offers a variety of services to victims of violent crimes, has treated 192 gunshot victims, Boccellari said.
Eighty-three percent were men, and 95 percent were minorities.
There is a similar problem in Britain:
In 2004-05, there were 78 fatal shootings in England and Wales. Of these, 40 of the victims were white, 25 black, seven Asian. The figures do not record the ethnicity of the killers but, by and large, murderers tend mostly to target members of their own ethnic group.
In 2005-06, there were 50 fatal shootings. Eighteen victims were white, 19 black and four Asian. That same year, 351 black people were injured by guns. For whites, injuries totalled 2,952.
The statistics confirm that the problem of gun crime is not unique to the black community, but they provide stark evidence that the black community is over-represented to a frightening degree.
According to the 2001 Home Office census, Britain's black community makes up just 2 per cent of the total population. Yet each year around a third of all shooting victims are black. About one in 10 victims are of Asian origin, a population that makes up just 4 per cent of Britain's total.
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