The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Brian Robinson Jr. should be okay. Don’t forget the victims who won’t.

D.C. police monitor a crime scene after a fatal shooting in Northwest Washington in 2021. (Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/The Washington Post)

If last week was like most weeks in the nation’s capital, about a dozen people were rushed into its emergency rooms suffering from gunshot wounds.

All but one would’ve been Black and male. Most would’ve been in their 20s. And you probably wouldn’t have heard about any of them because we in the media probably wouldn’t have deemed their lives, let alone their survival, newsworthy. Except in the abstract talk about the ongoing plague of gun violence in this area, and this country, that is not about its disproportionate impact on Black males but about cold statistics that make the rest of the populace worried about dining out.

But Brian Robinson Jr., despite also being Black and male and 23, made this week different. His landing at MedStar Washington Hospital Center on Sunday evening with two gunshot wounds, suffered in what police said was an attempted armed robbery in the gentrified H Street Northeast entertainment corridor, made not only local news but national. Because despite fitting that all-but-dismissed tragic demographic, Robinson was expected to be a star running back with the Washington Commanders after they drafted him in April following a promising career at Alabama. He was expected to entertain. He was expected to be insulated from his congenital vagaries by his newfound economic class: that of the millionaire professional athlete. He was not expected to fall victim to his race, gender and age.

It was yet another example of how it seems we only pay attention to the afflictions of Black life when celebrity, especially athletic celebrity, is at the intersection.

Commanders’ Brian Robinson Jr. ‘able to wrestle a firearm away’ in robbery

Robinson became one of hundreds of patients — most like him — whom MedStar Washington, as one of the city’s four Level 1 trauma centers, saves from gunshot wounds every year. Heroically. And anonymously. Robinson was released Monday from MedStar Washington following surgery.

“There’s one of the trauma surgeons in the hospital 24 hours a day,” Erin Hall, a MedStar Washington trauma surgeon, told me Tuesday of her colleagues. “Our survival rates are upwards of 95 percent of all folks that come in — that’s people who still have a heartbeat, they’re still alive when they get here.

“But … there’s long-term consequences of injury,” Hall emphasized, “ones that really can impact people, their physical injuries, but also … their mental injury of being shot, the trauma of that. And then also their economic and other impacts that come from injury. So it’s really not just a single time point injury, but it can impact somebody’s entire life and their trajectory after that and really impacts whole communities on a day-to-day basis.”

It all reminded me of the award-winning documentary “I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story,” which is about a young Black man growing up in the shadow of Yale University who suffers a shooting and the lingering effect it has on his life and the community in which he was reared. This scourge only seems to happen in a vacuum.

“While we have statistics on people’s survival, we don’t have that same kind of data about what somebody’s trajectory is outside of the hospital,” Hall said. “Are they able to return to work? Are they able to return to school? Are they able to … come back to a life full of like health and vigor and beauty?

“And it’s really our program, our Community Violence Intervention Program,” Hall said of the program she runs, “that really tries to meet people where they are, both literally and kind of philosophically, and say, ‘How could we make this point, this point of injury, that might be the worst day of your life, an inflection point to better health, actually, than even before you were shot?’ ”

There has been a lot of misinformed outrage in the wake of Robinson being wounded. Some have charged that the D.C. government is to blame for what befell Robinson and those who’ve suffered the same misfortune, or worse, before him.

“It’s human nature to try to simplify the really complicated,” said Hall, who has been working in the District for 17 years. “Gun violence didn’t just crop up. It’s been here for a long time. I really credit the city for investing in innovative strategies that are evidence-based and are trying to move the needle forward. I think there’s always more that we can do, including more coordination between all of the different community groups, including [D.C. police], to try to prevent violence. Because we really are all on the same team, and it won’t be a single thing that provides the solution. It’s really going to be multidisciplinary.”

For the hire-more-police crowd, D.C. police are actively recruiting new officers. But more important, maybe, are programs such as those that Hall guides.

“In general, when somebody with means is hurt or injured … there is a sense that they might have more resources at their disposal to help them through that and help them recover,” Hall said. “Well, folks with very little resources who are sort of on the brink at any given moment before injury, the gunshot wound can really be a spiral downward, can really be this sort of inflection point toward more emergency, more risk, more vulnerability. That’s what we’re really trying to avoid.”

Robinson is with resources. He isn’t like most of the gunshot patients MedStar treats, who are on the margin of living. Robinson will meet with the football team’s medical and training staff to determine his recovery as an athlete. Many in his predicament need help recovering as human beings. Maybe Robinson’s recovery can remind us of that.

“I think the other thing is really bringing a human face to gun violence,” Hall said. “I see every day mainly young men and boys, or older men, and each one of them has a story. They have hopes, they have dreams. They have goals in their life. And we see everyone, to try to help them reach that potential, to try to use what they have, problem-solve with them, support them to make their story come to fruition and have a happier ending rather than what it could.”

Robinson will get that chance. We will watch and cheer him as he does. And hopefully we will extend the same interest to the others who aren’t so famous as we try to find solutions to this damned menace of gun violence.

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