Where you get shot matters.
I am not talking about where on the body you get shot in terms of how likely you are to survive a gunshot wound. Although, I have seen first-hand how a gunshot wound to the head compares with one to the leg in my work as a resident physician. Instead, I am talking about the significance of where in an American city you are shot in determining the value that city will place on your life.
In Baltimore, the neighborhood where you get shot, the demographics of that neighborhood and your own social characteristics determine whether your name is featured on the front-page of the newspaper or relegated to the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen.
I am not suggesting that the substantial news coverage of particular shootings, or the police response to them, is excessive, nor am I seeking to devalue the lives of those killed. Rather, I question why every life is not worthy of a front-page story and posit that the disproportionately low media coverage of murders of low-income people of color diminishes the dignity and value of all human life.
Would fewer murders go unsolved if equal value was placed on every life? What if the media coverage were the same for a 30-something African American father shot and killed in West Baltimore as for a 40-something Caucasian bartender killed in a predominately white, affluent part of the city?
The former was my patient, the latter lived in my own neighborhood. Their shootings occurred just months apart, but the attention paid to them in the media and the visible response from the police department could not have been more different. The white man was honored with multiple articles in The Baltimore Sun and a speech from the police chief. The former was, to my knowledge, only mentioned in one line of a news article reporting the number of shootings that week in Baltimore.
We are making small steps in the right direction. Recently, the New York Times podcast “The Daily” portrayed the legacy of a young man shot and killed in Baltimore in 2016. It shared his story as a leader in his community and a loving son. The podcast also explored his history of dealing drugs with the dream to make money and get out of the city. It was refreshing to hear his life memorialized in this way — one that recognized the richness and complexity of being human.
My plea is for my patient who was killed to also have this kind of recognition. I know that he was a father, that he loved his daughter and tried to make it to her school events. I know that he was soft-spoken, motivated, smart and sarcastic. I came to know the kind voice of his partner when I would call to check on him. But the world only knows his name, his age, what time and where he was shot — no details of the community or family affected, no details of the man tragically lost. There was complexity in his life. He had been shot before. He had spent time in prison. But this complexity does not take away from his humanity.
I have come from a very different place than my patient. I have had different opportunities. But like my patient, there is complexity in me — there is good and there is bad in me. And yet, it is significantly less likely that I will be shot and killed while living in my comfortable Baltimore home than the young men and women living 10 minutes away from me. And I recognize my privilege — that if something did happen to me, I would probably be the front-page article, not a line in the list of murders for the week.
But please, if ever I should be killed, do not talk about me until you talk about him. Report on the families that have lost their loved ones and have been ignored. Report on those who I am sure will continue to be killed. Report on their lives, their humanity and their value.