The other simmering national crisis: violence
Over the past two weeks, Bermuda has braced for the arrival of a new, and potentially deadly, infectious disease.
It’s now here and efforts to contain it are under way. Covid-19, or coronavirus, is a disease that can affect anyone in every demographic if exposed to it. But science tells us the impact is felt more by certain populations.
There is a specific demographic most at risk — senior citizens. Seniors exposed to Covid-19 are at higher risk of substantial illness and loss. The uncertainties of the problem cause public anxiety. Fears about it spreading to those who are healthy, informed and isolated from the disease are real and a whole-of-government approach has been adopted.
Sadly, all of this should sound very familiar to us here in Bermuda. Why? Because, we’ve had a contagious disease in Bermuda for quite some time: gun violence.
Violence is contagious. Another midday shooting on Court Street this week has taken another life. The disease has again spread.
In his influential research on this subject Gary Slutkin, MD, writes:
“Violence is a contagious disease. It meets the definitions of a disease and of being contagious — that is, violence is spread from one person to another. Exposure to violence increases the likelihood that the exposed person will commit violence, that is, to become a perpetrator”.
Violence, like Covid-19, targets a certain population but it is not seniors who are at risk; it is young, black males — a demographic whose numbers have declined so sharply over the past decade through homicide or incarceration. Violence, like Covid-19, has a significant impact on those who are exposed, either directly or indirectly and violence, like Covid-19, is a public health crisis.
There are two notable differences, however, with the two. First, Covid-19 has not claimed a life in Bermuda. Yet group violence has claimed more than 60 lives in just over a decade. The second difference? The arrival of Covid-19 is being met by a unified Bermuda. Absolutely no one wants this disease to be here and infect our people.
We’ve seen leadership by our premier, Minister of Health and just about every healthcare worker from every corner of this island. There are no partisan handcuffs, just a unified message of preparation and a readiness to help those who may be affected.
Imagine if violence in our community enjoyed the same unity? It’s simply not there. This lack of a unified approach often results in fewer resources for those who are on the front lines. It results in a justified resentment from our marginalised communities that have been exposed, repeatedly, to violence and homicide, and await a true holistic response.
There is fear, uncertainty and doubt about Covid-19, now that it’s here on our shores. It seems everyone in every demographic is extra vigilant when looking for symptoms such as dry coughs, fever and germs.
Yet only a few still appear interested with treating the decades-old exposures to violence and executing a prevention model that treats those affected directly and everyone around them, too.
Like Covid-19, many future victims of gun violence are not showing any symptoms today. But because they have been exposed to violence, they are at high risk for becoming a victim or becoming a perpetrator.
Their symptoms often appear when it is too late to save them from prison or from death. Neither scenario should be acceptable to any of us working and wishing for a healthier Bermuda.
It is time to reframe our violence problem and treat it — and those exposed — as a national health crisis.
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