The Growing Racial Gap in Childhood Exposure to Gun Violence

BBefore the COVID-19 epidemic, America’s Black population was more vulnerable to gun violence than its white counterparts. Boston University recently released a study showing a worrying trend in the evolution of this trend over time.

This study was published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine, March 14. It shows that Black children were at significantly greater risk of becoming victims to gun violence in five years prior to the outbreak. As gun violence increased across the nation, this disparity became even more pronounced during the pandemic.

This study does not measure neighborhood exposure, only the actual number of victims or injuries. However recent news highlights have highlighted the dangers inherent in firearm violence occurring nearby. The latest victim of a spate of incidental shootings of young children, the 12-year old Brooklyn boy who was sitting inside his car, was shot and killed on Thursday evening.

Based on U.S. Census data, gun violence statistics from the Gun Violence Archive (a non-profit that tracks shooting incidents in America), the authors discovered that approximately nine million children aged five to 17 lived in neighborhoods that saw at least one fatal shooting from 2015 through 2019. Black children were exposed to a 4.4-fold higher risk than white kids. It was higher for Hispanic children at 2.1x.

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The pandemic’s first year saw the number of people affected by the disease rise from nine to eleven million. Most of this increase occurred in Black and Brown communities.

“Not only were the disparities reproduced during the pandemic, they actually got more severe,” Jonathan Jay, a professor at Boston University and co-author of the study, tells TIME. “We knew during the pandemic that gun violence was increasing across the U.S., so to see the disparity increase didn’t surprise us. The pandemic was just reproducing social disadvantages across multiple dimensions of marginalization, including race.”

Jay noticed some geographic differences. According to the study, the South saw the highest overall rates of gun violence exposure among children—but the racial disparities were most apparent in the Northwest and the Midwest.

“To us, that speaks to the extent to which residential segregation matters, because the Northeast and the Midwest are the most segregated,” Jay says. The most segregated American cities include Detroit, Chicago, Newark (N.J.) and Cleveland. ” Those regions have higher levels of safety but they don’t distribute safety equally.”

Multifaceted effects of gun violence exposure on children are evident: they have poor mental and physical health, and their performance in school is worse. Access to community resources can also be affected by the neighborhood violence rate.

Learn more An anonymous gun violence victim shares his story

Despite the fact that the research was intended to only measure the problem, the authors discovered that the results of their study highlight the necessity to solve it.

“Racially disparate exposure to firearm violence requires structural solutions focused on preventing violence,” the study says, arguing that actions such as violence intervention and financial investment in disenfranchised communities are tangible solutions.

“This really points to all the different levels that we need to be addressing,” Jay says. “We need to turn off the tap of new experiences that are just compounding the adverse experiences that kids have already had with gun violence.”

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