Will child victims make the city work harder to stop the shootings?

In mere seconds the innocence and sense of security of a 3-year-old in East Baltimore was shattered by a bullet.

The bullet that grazed the arm of Darrell Johns as he stood on his porch resulted in a relatively minor injury in a city where guns too frequently maim and kill. The physical wound should heal quickly; the experience will likely stay with the young boy for a lifetime.

Already, Darrell is scared to go home, his mother has said. Fearful that the gunman will come back. Worried that someone will hurt his other arm. His siblings are also emotionally distraught.

And what child wouldn’t be unnerved by such a traumatic event? But like many residents in Baltimore who can’t afford to move elsewhere, Darrell will go home. The place that should be a safe haven will instead remind him constantly of what happened and throw him into a state of unending fear and anxiety.

It’s a reminder of the hidden human toll of violence in Baltimore streets. The topic often gets lost in talk about homicide numbers and police shortages, but it is one that impacts generations of families and makes children grow up way too fast.

Darrell is just the latest young victim. Last week, 5-year-old Amy Hayes was seriously injured in West Baltimore after getting caught in the crossfire of a shootout while walking to the store with a doll in her hand. Her older half-sister Taylor Hayes, 7, died after being shot in July while riding in the back seat of a car in Southwest Baltimore.

Yet the outrage about the future of these children seems to be subdued. Perhaps the violence is making us all numb and hopeless.

We need to be more concerned. Science shows that failing to address the problem can set children up for a lifetime of hardship and health problems. And it is not just those who are physically wounded who are at risk. The hundreds who hear gunshots, see fights and stabbings and endure the constant shriek of police and ambulance sirens are likely dealing with severe psychological wounds as well.

It has become almost cliche to say that living in some Baltimore communities is like surviving in a war zone. Yet, in the most severe cases, many children are walking around with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, just like soldiers. The stress these children experience breeds anxiety and depression that can hurt development of key parts of the brain and make it hard to perform normal daily tasks, such as concentrating in school. The symptoms may manifest in tantrums and acting out or appear in nightmares. Perhaps the violent attacks by students on Baltimore teachers are a sign of something more sinister — signs of a lost generation of children who have never been taught how to deal with growing up amid violence.

Help exists for these children. Doctors are paying more attention to the mental health toll of violence, and schools have enlisted social workers to help children deal with it. But so much more must be done if we don’t want to continuing to foster generations of maladjusted young people. Mainly, the police and politicians need to bring the murder and shooting rates down.

We hope Darrell will get the counseling he needs so that this tragic event won’t negatively shape the rest of his life. His mother made an important first step by speaking out about the devastating and traumatic effect the shooting has had on her child. Let’s hope somebody comes to their aid. In the meantime, she said she will pray.

Perhaps, the rest of us can follow in her example and show more indignation and fury over the violence and its effect on children. Maybe if enough children are injured it will prompt lawmakers to do more. They too should be outraged, and some say they are. But piled one atop the other, the bromides that violence must end have become rote.

If the sight of a wounded child can’t stop the shootings, we don’t know what can.

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