MILWAUKEE — A violent Thursday night in Milwaukee left three people dead and 11 others injured in several shootings.
The Milwaukee Police Department says homicides and nonfatal shootings are now outpacing last year’s historic rates.
Trauma surgeons and funeral directors say they have also been inundated with gun violence victims ever since the onset of the pandemic. After 18 months, one surgeon says it’s time to start treating violence like a disease.
The front lines inside Milwaukee area hospitals aren’t just overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Trauma centers say gun violence is also stretching resources thin.
"When you're having some of the highest acuity patients come into the emergency room time and time and time again, it eats at the team,” said Dr. Marc deMoya.
Dr. deMoya is the Chief of Trauma Surgery at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. It’s where the most critical gunshot victims in southeastern Wisconsin receive care.
Dr. deMoya sees several parallels between the uptick in gun violence and the coronavirus pandemic. He believes it’s due to the economic and mental health stress that has hit low income communities, like Milwaukee’s inner city, the hardest.
"Violence spreads in a very similar way,” he said. "Violence begets violence, so when you're actually involved in violence, you have a much higher incidence of an additional person within a close proximity of being involved in that violence and spreading that violence.”
Just like there are ways to stop the spread of coronavirus with masks, social distancing and vaccines, there are prevention efforts to combat shootings. But Dr. deMoya says it’s even more difficult to slow the cycle of violence.
"We need a vaccine for violence and that vaccine is very complex, it's not as easy as making a vaccine in a laboratory,” he said. “It's much more complex because it involves better gun control laws, better policing strategies, improving police morale, supporting the community."
The Milwaukee Police Department says it has responded to more than 700 nonfatal shootings in 2021, 150 more than this time last year. 2020 was a record year for Milwaukee homicides, but this year is on pace to be even worse.
"Losing someone is traumatic, it's hard and it's difficult, but when it's unexpected and someone loses a life and they have so much life that's left in them, it's very traumatic,” said Dr. Camelia Clarke.
Dr. Clarke is the co-owner and funeral director at Paradise Memorial on Milwaukee’s north side. She says it’s been a difficult year and a half of constantly helping families who are grieving loved ones who were shot and killed.
"We have been dealing with an increased number of services due to homicides, and the really sad and heartbreaking thing is when you have the children,” she said. “You have the younger ones and then you have young adults who are right in their prime. So we have seen an increase, and it's senseless and we want it to stop."
In order to get there, Dr. Clarke believes Milwaukee children need more access to faith-based programs and free therapy. She thinks adults need help launching careers that are able to support their families.