© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
To contact us with news tips, story ideas or other related information, e-mail newsstaff@ideastream.org.

Toxic Stress And Trauma Of Gun Violence Takes A Toll On Cleveland's Health

Nine-year-old Saniyah Nicholson was caught in crossfire and killed by stray bullet June 20.
Nine-year-old Saniyah Nicholson was caught in crossfire and killed by stray bullet June 20

Shootings are up by 20 perecent because of the rash of shootings in Cleveland over the past week when compared to a year ago, according to the Partnership for a Safer Cleveland.

So far this year, Cleveland police say there have been 64 homicides. A majority of the shooting deaths in the city have taken place in the predominantly-black neighborhoods on the East Side, the group reported — a stark reminder that people in these communities are often exposed to gun violence at a greater rate than other parts of Cleveland.

Saniyah Nicholson, 9, was among the victims of this summer's gun violence. On June 20, she was sitting in a car on Lee Road near Harvard Avenue with her 20-year-old sister when, according to police, a gun battle erupted between two groups of young men.  

Saniyah was eating ice cream, waiting for her mother, Marshawnette Daniels, to come out of the DNA Level C Boxing gym where Daniels's 14-year-old son was training.

Daniels, a nurse, said she got off work early and, instead of sending Saniyah to fetch her brother, she decided to run inside herself that day.

 “When I tell you it happened so fast from the time I got out of the car and went in the gym, to just have a minute and a half conversation, to hearing gunshots. It was just ricocheting. All you could do is drop,” Daniels said.

The shootout was just a few feet away from Daniels' car. According to police, a bullet pierced the car’s window and struck Saniya, killing her instantly.

“And the only thing I screamed was, 'My kids,' because my two were in the car. It was like the wild, wild West,” Daniels said.

Weeks after the funeral, Daniels said she is still in shock, trying to grapple with the violence in her community that killed her child, an honor student who was full of life and loved to dance. 

A grand jury indicted three of the men allegedly involved in the shootout; three juveniles suspected of being involved in the gunfight have also been arrested.

Daniels is outraged this shooting happened in such a busy area.

“One thing that we don’t talk about is the parents — that your son could pick up a gun and nevertheless shoot. Where are you? Do you know how many people were on the sidewalk that day? There could have been multiple murders,” she said.

Experts say that when violence like this occurs so close to one's business or home, people feel violated. They can lose their sense of control over what happens to them, said Dan Flannery, director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University . He said repeated exposure to violence can have a compound effect on the brain.

 “I think there is now accumulating evidence that there is a cumulative effect on the neurochemistry of our brains if we are constantly exposed to violence or are victimized by violence over time," he said. "This can have a significant impact on our health and our wellbeing and our mental health."

Flannery said gun violence should be treated as a public health issue, so that when multiple shootings occur in cities and neighborhoods, there is more than just a law enforcement response. He said there should be more focus on prevention and more resources devoted to treating the mental stress and trauma created in neighborhoods battered by violence.

Following her daughter’s death, Daniels said she and her family are in counseling.She said her older daughter recently graduated from nursing school, but added that it will take a long time for her to cope with witnessing her little sister’s death.

Daniels worries trauma is numbing her community and hardening hearts, leaving neighbors afraid when they see groups of young men.

“It does create a lot of extra stress," she said. "If you to the gas station and you see a bunch of guys, you don’t even want to go to the gas station because of that stereotype. But, see, it’s really not a stereotype for me because that was what I seen before my baby got taken away."

The California-based Prevention Institute is also advocating for a public-health focus to gun violence and its aftermath. The think tank has developed a process to address the problem by empowering the people who live in the embattled area.

The Prevention Insitute's methods are being embraced in Cleveland by MetroHeath hospital system, where officials are working with African-American pastors from several area churches. This fall, they plan to roll out a plan to focus on community trauma from gun violence in Cleveland neighborhoods.

On July 26, 2018 the Sound of Ideas hosted an in-depth conversation about treating gun violence as a public health issue and ways to help communities cope with the trauma and stress. Click here to listen.

Marlene Harris-Taylor
Marlene is the director of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.