July 29, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
Homicides may be down in Chicago, but shootings are up.
By how much? Great question, but a hard answer to come by.
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Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin
Now, if shootings in Chicago were treated like swine flu, we would know PRECISELY how many there have been this week, this month, this year.
Then again, as a society we don't obsess about shootings the way we do about germs.
Dr. Michelle Gittler argues it's time we do.
"We are required to report every sexually transmitted disease," she said. "But there is no requirement by law to report every gunshot wound."
And no national database,like the kinds kept by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
"I don't know," Dr. Gittler responded. "I guess we just don't believe this is a disease that needs surveillance. But I believe it."
What she also believes is that the numbers are far worse than what Chicago Police Department statistics indicate, even though those numbers are bad enough.
According to CPD, in 2005, there were 1,705 cases of aggravated battery with a gun, the vast majority being shootings.
By 2008, the number shot up to 2003, a 17.5 percent jump.
In the first 6 months of 2009, there has been a 6.3 percent increase over last year.
But what those numbers don't reflect are the shooting victims who don't go to a doctor, an emergency room, or to the police. And Dr. Gittler sees, among her patients at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital on the West Side, people who are carrying old, untreated gunshot wounds. Some are undocumented Hispanics. Some are gang-bangers. Some live in gang neighborhoods and live in fear of reporting the gangs.
When I visited Dr. Gittler at Schwab not too long ago, Jamone White was one of the patients in her care.
He is 22 and was shot on May 22 on the South Side.
"A gentleman creeped up on the side of my truck and stuck a gun in and put it upside my head," he said, "but God was with me some way."
Five shots were fired, and one struck White in his side. "I couldn't feel nothing from the waist down," he said from his wheelchair as he prepared to undergo grueling physical therapy to try to recover the use of his legs.
"It's not like the gunshot victims you see on TV where the surgeon plucks the bullet out," said Dr. Gittler, who calls bullets "missiles."
"Missiles don't just go through and through," she said. "Just one can hit the spine, bounce through the lungs, tear through the bowels . . . and end up in the gut or the neck. It's amazing where it can end up." And the result, too often, is paralysis. The estimated cost of that kind of injury is easily $70,000 a year. Over the lifespan of a young gunshot victim, it's millions of dollars that government very often ends up picking up. If we don't worry about the human cost, maybe the pricetag will get our attention.
This summer's gun violence in Chicago has gotten Washington attention. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin put it this way: "This last school year, recently completed, over 500 schoolchildren in Chicago were shot, at least 36 of them fatally."
"The numbers coming out of Chicago," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, "are simply unacceptable."
Not unacceptable enough, it seems.
Until the shootings in poorer neighborhoods grab our attention the way, say, the flesh-eating virus did, or swine flu does now, we're doomed to keep thinking of it as somebody else's problem.
And there will be more Jamone White's, some of whom will be counted.
And some who won't even make it as a statistic.
I got it wrong on Sunday about the new baby for Chicago Schools CEO Ron Huberman and partner Daren DeJong. His name isn't Alden. It's Aidan! Blessings once again.