At Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Dr Brant Putnam has seen the intense weight of the COVID-19 pandemic finally begin to lift in recent months – only to be replaced by another relentless stressor.
In the first four months of 2021, gunshot victims have arrived at a much higher rate than usual.
Torrance Level 1 Trauma Center treats approximately 3,500 patients per year; an average of 15% suffer a “penetrating trauma” such as a shooting or stabbing, said Putnam, head of the trauma and acute care division.
So far this year the figure is 19%, he said. From January 1 to April 27, the hospital treated 142 victims of the shooting, up from 76 in the same period last year, an increase of nearly 87%.
“It has definitely been one of the most stressful times in my entire career,” said Putnam, a 20-year-old surgeon who rubs and works round-the-clock trauma teams once or twice a week.
As COVID-19 began hospitalizing and killing more people in Los Angeles last year, so have street shootings. The increased bloodshed, much of it gang-related, exploded as the economy faltered, leading to the deadliest year of violence in Los Angeles in a decade.
The surrounding areas of LA County have seen a similar increase in gun violence.
Now, four months after the start of 2021, life is returning to normal in many parts of the city as vaccination efforts reduce coronavirus infections, shutdown orders are lifted and businesses reopen.
Gun violence, however, is not receding.
According to data from the Los Angeles Police Department, the city had experienced 465 shootings on Saturday since January 1, an increase of nearly 67% from the same period last year. Homicides, at 115 on Sunday, were up more than 26%.
Police say gangs were often to blame; another major factor was the conflicts in the homeless settlements. Victims include people shot dead in robberies, randomly shot drivers in their cars and shot dead pedestrians in the streets. A 12-year-old girl was shot dead at an outdoor birthday party; a 6-year-old boy was shot dead in a building.
Last week, a man reportedly went on a rampage in the city, killing two people and injuring two others in five separate shootings before being killed by police. An off-duty LAPD officer was shot dead in Sherman Oaks, police said after finding a man breaking into his car, which he shot dead. And police have announced five arrests in Lady Gaga’s February shooting of Lady Gaga’s dogwalker in Hollywood, an incident that has highlighted an increase in the number of robbery victims this year.
On Monday, LAPD detectives were investigating a morning shootout in Mid-City that left two dead and one woman injured, among others.
There are still far fewer shootings than there were in the 1990s in Los Angeles, but far more are dying than in recent years, in the city and beyond.
Preliminary data from the LA County Sheriff’s Department shows homicides in surrounding areas have increased by more than 113% in the first three months of this year, with 64 murders, up from 30 during the same period in 2020 ., jumped 82% during this period, from 255 to 465.
At this year’s weekly Civilian Police Commission meetings, LAPD chief Michel Moore lamented the violence, blaming the widespread availability of firearms, including homemade weapons known as d ghost guns, despite the fact that gun arrests this year have increased by more than 90%.
“It’s frankly too many guns in too many hands,” Moore recently told the committee.
Moore also noted that more than a dozen homicide victims this year were homeless and said the LAPD had linked much of the violence to “the interchange between gang violence and homeless people, where we have seen an increase in reprisals and conflicts involving people living with homelessness and drug sales. “
At the macro level, Moore argued, the increase in violence is inextricably linked to the pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on social safety nets and the economy, disrupted violence prevention efforts, and prevented agents intervention to sit at the bedside of the shooting victims, or afterwards. to family members in emergency departments, to help prevent cycles of retaliation.
Police officials across the country have noted similar forces, as their cities – large and small, led by Democrats and Republicans – also suffer from the rise in gun violence. Criminologists have singled out the pandemic and its multitude of repercussions as the only common thread across the country.
Some in LA County cite other factors, such as the policies of the new Dist. Atty. George Gascón who are seen to be lenient towards criminals or local pandemic rules to release prisoners and those arrested before trial. But experts say these theories don’t explain the national push.
As infection rates have declined in recent weeks and restrictions on rallies and other events have slowly lifted, Moore expressed hope that the violence will abate.
Others hope so too.
Anne Tremblay, legal advisor to Mayor Eric Garcetti who until February ran his gang reduction and youth development office, said the advocates and other peace ambassadors deserve immense credit for continuing their efforts. work during the pandemic.
But, she said, many have the “zoom fatigue” of trying to organize conversations and solve problems online and are eager to go back to hospital beds and host events like Summer Night. Lights, a program of free services and activities for families in public parks.
“They look forward to this face-to-face interaction, this direct connection between the youth and the families and young adults that they are trying to reach,” said Tremblay. “Zoom is less than ideal for reaching young people who need support, whether they are at high risk of joining a gang or whether they are already involved or affiliated with a gang.”
Garcetti has requested additional funding for these workers in his budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which will need to be approved by city council.
Skipp Townsend, a gang interventionist, said the city was at a critical juncture. As COVID-19 wears off, community leaders need to remember that young people have been traumatized by the past year and will need help regaining balance in their lives, he said.
They were deprived for a year of “everything they need to be mentally healthy,” such as school, sports and time with their peers, Townsend said, and “are currently facing social challenges. , trying to get back to normal.
Townsend agreed that the pandemic played a huge role in increasing violence. Some isolated young people got angry and some were able to buy guns – including unregistered ghost guns – for the first time thanks to stimulus checks linked to the pandemic, he said. Some have posted images on social media of themselves and their guns in closed parks across town, mocking neighborhood rivals, bruising egos and inciting violence, Townsend said.
Now that the parks are coming back to life, schools are reopening and restrictions are relaxed on interventionists, Townsend and others hope to reconnect with these children and prevent some of the bloodshed. But “it won’t be just a sudden drop” in shootings, he said. “These children have been psychologically traumatized; they’ve been through a lot.
Putnam said he also saw the mental trauma.
Often the shooting victims who arrive at his unit in Harbor-UCLA are young men from South Los Angeles. Some seem hardened by their situation and some have already been shot. But they all have “a lot of life plans, life goals, life expectancies,” and those who are clear-headed begged Putnam to keep them alive, he said.
Their family members, whom Putnam often has to call, are also in great pain.
“A lot of times you yell and drop the phone, and someone else has to call and be a little more consistent talking with,” Putnam said.
Under current COVID-19 protocols, family members are not allowed to enter hospital unless their loved one is in danger of dying – a necessary but, for many, devastating provision.
“We’re here with them, and they’re thinking crazy about all these gunshot wounds destroying the lives of young people,” Putnam said. “Is it really worth it, whatever minor thing may have triggered it?”