Black ExperienceHamil R. Harris

College Park Researcher Devoted to Plight of African-American Male Shooting Victims

Steven “Smack” Stax talked about arriving by ambulance to the trauma unit of a D.C. area hospital suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen.

“My first thought was, ‘Don’t die,'” Stax said from his hospital bed in an interview that was part of the documentary “Bullets Without Names.” He went on to say, “When I got shot at 23, I kept thinking how my brother got shot and died at 23.”

After hours of surgery, Stax would get a colostomy bag because his intestines were too infected from bullet wounds. But eventually, Stax’s body would heal and his bowel would be reconnected surgically and placed back inside his body.

But Dr. Joseph Richardson, acting chairman of the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland, College Park, said another shooting victim who was shot by the Metropolitan Police had a much longer path to recovering physically and mentally.

“You can imagine the psychological impact of wearing a colostomy bag for more than six years,” said Richardson who was the main speaker at a webinar that was entitled, “Life After the Gunshot: A Digital Storytelling Project on the Impact of Structural and Interpersonal Violence and the Healing Process for Young Black Men.” It was sponsored by the Baha’i Chair for World Peace.

Richardson has spent years researching the impact of shootings on African American males, said many trauma victims like another young in DC wore a colostomy bag for six years despite going from a hospital to prison, parole and back to the hospital for a second multiple shooting..

“That is an example of the structural violence that not only occurs on the streets but in the health care system,” Richardson said. “He was outside with his friends in Clay Terrace in Northeast and a squad of police jumped out. Thinking this was a rival gang they started firing. He was hit five times. One bullet went through his back and the bullets hit his abdomen.”

Richardson declined to give the young man’s name or whereabouts today because of security reasons. In the world of trauma victims often have to get alias names because of possible retribution. It is a dangerous world.

“This young man had gone through the hospital system, the prison, injured again while getting the non of the medical system notice he had a bag,” Richardson said. “It was only during our hospital intervention program that anyone noticed that he was wearing a bag.”

According to Richardson’s research, homicide due to gun violence, is the leading cause of death and disability in the US among young Black males (ages 15-34). He added Approximately 2.3 Americans are incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails and 40% of the incarcerated population are Black despite representing only 13% of the US residents. Additionally, 4.5 million US residents are on probation and parole. It is expected that one out of three young Black men will be incarcerated at some point in their lifetimes.

“Gun violence and mass incarceration not only contribute to early mortality and social death among this population, they also impose significant physiological and mental health trauma across the life course,” Richardson said.

The presentation used images from a digital storytelling project “Life After the Gunshot,” that focused on the lives of 10 young Black male survivors of gun violence and mass incarceration in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

“The most significant risk factor in bringing a young man back to the hospital is their history of incarceration,” Richardson said. “One of the reasons is the collateral consequences of what it really means to have a felony. There is the Inability to get employment, access to housing, the inability to vote..”

Richardson is the Co-Founder of Capital Region Violence Intervention Program, a hospital-based violence intervention program, at the Prince George’s Hospital Trauma Center in Cheverly, Md.

Abdul Raheem Abdullah spent years in the District working with middle school and elementary students to help them stay clear of violence. “Sometimes you have to take them out of the community to show something different.”

During the day, Abdullah was the director of operations at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in the late 1990s. He said in terms of street violence today he said, “It’s not getting better, it is getting worse.”

Roach Brown, a veteran community activist and advocate for ex-offenders, said that the plight of black males is getting worse and not better.

“Our entire community is hurting and hurt people hurt other hurt people” because there is a lack of jobs and services in the community, Brown said. “To get a job everything is on the computer but what if you don’t have a computer.”

“Everywhere they go they get castigated,” Brown said. “If they stand on this corner the police will arrest them, They can’t go to a country club or the WMCA,” Brown said. “They don’t have the money to ride on Metro to get to these places. Everywhere they go, they are being forced and told to move, move, move.”



Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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