Michael and Robin: May Your Lives and Deaths Not Be In Vain

glowinskiAnne Glowinski, MD, MPE, Professor of Psychiatry, School of Medicine

Over a million persons die in the world every week.

Over last week, in our corner of the world, two deaths have unleashed a torrent of media coverage, commentaries, reactions and counter-reactions.

Robin Williams died August 11th, 2014 at the age of 63, one of about 16,000 persons who die from suicide every week, in the world.

Michael Brown died August 9th, 2014 at the age of 18, one of the estimated 10,000 persons who die from murder every week, in the world. He was also one of the about 30 human beings killed every day, in the United States, by someone else firing a gun.  All over the world murder victims tend to be young males. In the USA, they tend to be young black males. 

To put this in perspective, according to the CDC, in the USA, a black teenager’s probability of being murdered is about 10 times that of a white teenager being murdered.  All other ethnic minorities in the US have murder rates higher than whites and much lower than blacks.  The murder of any young person is a counter-nature tragedy. The racial disparity in murders is an unacceptable additional tragedy which affects or should affect all of us.

Still, so that children do not walk around feeling that they have a target on their backs, those numbers need to be well understood: in the early 1990s, the rate of homicide per year for black young people 10 to 24 was about 60 per 100,000 (0.06 per 100) and it is now about 30 per 100,000 (0.03 per 100). Rates of homicides have decreased in the last 2 decades including for young black people but they have decreased less, another disparity. What is not represented in those statistics is that murder is  much more common in certain communities, so that the feeling of one’s life being less valuable than  the life of others is a reality for many children and adolescents in our country: this is a reality I know well. I encountered it when working as a Hopkins child psychiaty fellow in East Baltimore. I encounter it when working as a child psychiatrist in St. Louis, our significantly segregated city.

In the last few days, much has been facebooked, tweeted, written, spoken about Michael’s death.

He was killed by a white cop and some, including sadly some journalists, have seemingly been trying to quell reaction to his death, or to justify it somehow. Is it not true after all that Michael was even more likely to be killed by another young black male?  Was he perhaps robbing a store? Did his picture not suggest that he was or wanted to be in a gang? As if his death was thus more deserved.

Read entire post on WU Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Blog