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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Death by Gunshot Wound (13 years later)

R.I.P. Lakessha Johnson
ABC news is reporting that a young woman named Lakessha Johnson has died from complications sustained in a shooting.  I'm always saddened by reports of gun violence, but this story has a particularly unique twist: Lakessha was originally shot in 1998. 

The story goes on to say that her shooter, Ronnie Brown, served two years in prison for accidentally shooting Lakessha in the back.  Apparently, Brown was sitting in the backseat of a car and picked up a bag containing a loaded firearm, which went off.  The bullet hit Lakessha in the back, leaving her paralyzed.  During the next 13 years of her life, Lakessha suffered through a long list of health complications.  3 years ago, Lakessha had to have her legs amputated.  She leaves behind three children and now Ronnie Brown may face murder charges.

This is a tragic story on so many levels.  My condolences go out to Lakessha's family.  I can't imagine how difficult this must be for them.  

I hope that Lakessha's story can serve as an important reminder about the "long road to health" for many surviving gunshot victims.  Different studies show that most shootings are non-fatal.  I've seen reports suggesting that somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 shootings result in a homicide.  Although most people who get shot don't die, surviving victims face a long list of physical and mental health problems for the rest of their lives.  From nagging arthritic joints and recurrent bouts of PTSD to cardiovascular problems and long-term depression, surviving gunshot victims are rarely ever the same after living through such a traumatic event. 

Many of the gunshot victims I've met and followed in Philadelphia are folks who want to resume their lives, but can't because of health complications that prevent them from working and leading productive lives.  Moreover, beyond the obvious decline in quality of life, many gunshot victims are primary caretakers of children or breadwinners for entire families.  All of this is to say that one injury sustained in a shooting can have a ripple effect on an entire family or social network.

I hope that Lakessha's story and others that I've uncovered in my research will help policymakers realize the need to create long-term physical and mental health programs for victims and their families.  I believe that such programs would make economic sense by ensuring that injured victims can continue to be productive people over their lives.