MICHEL R. SMITH – Associated Press
PREDENCE, RI (AP) – After the mass shootings of people who went to grocery stores, went to church and just lived their lives last weekend, the nation marked a milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID-19. The figure, once unimaginable, has now become an irreversible reality in the United States – as is the continuing reality of gun violence, which kills tens of thousands of people a year.
Americans have always suffered high mortality rates among some sections of society. But the large number of deaths from preventable causes, and the clear recognition that no change in policy is imminent, raises the question: has mass death become accepted in America?
“I think the evidence is infallible and quite clear. We will suffer a huge amount of carnage, suffering and death in the US because we have for the last two years. We have a bigger history, ”says Greg Gonzalves, an epidemiologist and professor at Yale University who was a leading member of the ACT UP AIDS advocacy group.
“If I thought the AIDS epidemic was bad, then America’s reaction to COVID-19 was like … it’s a form of American grotesque, right?” Says Gonsalves. “Really – a million people died? And are you going to talk to me about the fact that you need to return to a normal life, when most of us have been living a pretty smart life for the last six months? ”
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Certain communities have always borne the brunt of higher mortality. There is deep racial and class inequality in the United States, and our tolerance for death is based in part on those at risk, says Elizabeth Wrigley Field, a professor of sociology who studies mortality at the University of Minnesota.
“The death of some people is much more important than others,” she complains. “I think that’s what we see in such a really cruel way with such a coincidence of time.”
Authorities say Buffalo’s alleged shooter was a racist prone to killing black people. The family of 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, one of 10 dead, has expressed the grief and frustration of millions by demanding action.
“You expect us to do it again and again and again – again, forgive and forget,” said her son, former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnel Whitfield Jr. “While the people we elect and trust in offices across the country are doing their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.”
Many Americans share this feeling – that politicians have done little, even when violence is repeated. According to Martha Lincoln, a professor of anthropology at the University of San Francisco, this is a feeling that is part of the “thoughts and prayers” offered to victims of gun violence by politicians who do not want to change policy.
“I don’t think most Americans feel good about it. I think most Americans would like to see real action by their cultural leaders on these pervasive issues, ”said Lincoln, who sees a similar“ political vacuum ”around COVID-19.
With COVID-19 American society has even come to terms with the death of children from preventable causes. Pediatrician Dr. Mark W. Klein wrote in a guest column for The Advocate that more than 1,500 children died from COVID-19, and recalled a time in pediatrics when “children should not have died.”
“There was no acceptable pediatric number of corpses,” he wrote. “At least not before the first social media pandemic, COVID-19, changed everything.”
Violence with guns has become such a part of life in America now that we organize our lives around its inevitability, says Sanali Rajan, a professor at Columbia University who studies violence at school. Children hold classes at school. And in about half of the states, Rajan says, teachers can carry firearms. She notes that an estimated 100,000 people are shot each year and about 40,000 die.
She sees similar dynamics in the current response to COVID-19. Americans, she said, “deserve to be able to commute to work without getting sick, or work somewhere without getting sick, or send their children to school so they don’t get sick.”
She says it is important to ask what policies are chosen by elected officials who have the right to “take care of the health and well-being of their constituents.”
“It’s amazing how they relieved me of this responsibility, as I would describe it,” says Rajan.
The level of concern about death often depends on the context, says Rajiv Sethi, a professor of economics at Barnard College. It points to a rare but dramatic event such as a plane crash that seems to matter to people.
The network notes that America has more suicides due to guns than murders, with an estimated 24,000 suicides using guns compared to 19,000 homicides. But while there are policy proposals that could help under the Second Amendment, he says the arms debate is politically entrenched, causing “paralysis”.
“It divides us when people think they can’t do anything,” says Dr. Megan Renny of Brown University School of Public Health.
Renee points to false stories spread by bad actors, such as denying that death could have been prevented, or believing that those who die deserve it. In the United States, the emphasis is on individual responsibility for one’s health, Renny says.
“It’s not that we value individual life less, but rather we face the limits of that approach,” she says.
In truth, she says that the death or disability of any person affects society.
Similar debates have taken place in the last century on child labor laws, worker protection and reproductive rights, while in the 1980s the AIDS crisis lacked the political will to address this issue in an environment of discrimination against gays. Wrigley-Field activists, Wrigley-Field notes, were able to mobilize a movement that forced people to change the way they thought and forced politicians to change the way they did.
“I don’t think these things are out of the table right now. It’s just not clear if they will appear, “says Wrigley Field.” I don’t think giving up is a permanent state of affairs. But I think that’s where we are right now. “
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