Does Gun Violence Need an Emmett Till Moment?

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Speaker 1: Welcome, everybody, to today’s hybrid hearing.

Mary Harris: Last week on Capitol Hill, there was a five hour hearing about gun violence. Parents of kids who died in the Uvalde School shooting testified. So did the president of the National Education Association. But the part of this hearing that I couldn’t shake was testimony from a woman named Zenaida Everhart. Please testify, Miss Everhart.

Speaker 3: Thank you.

Mary Harris: Chairwoman. Zenaida Everhart was there to talk about her son, Zaire. Zaire was injured in the Topps grocery store shooting in Buffalo. His mother was calm and persistent and extremely vivid.

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Speaker 3: Should be voted out to the lawmakers who feel that we do not need stricter gun laws. Let me paint a picture for you. My son, Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck. Two on his back and another on his left leg. Caused by an exploding bullet from an AR 15. As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life. Now, I want you to picture that exact scenario for one of your children. This should not be your story or mine’s.

Mary Harris: She practically dared these lawmakers to feel her pain.

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Speaker 3: If, after hearing from me and the other people testifying here today does not move you to act on gun laws. I invite you to my home to help me clean Zion’s wounds so that you may see up close the damage that has been caused to my son and to my community.

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Mary Harris: I wondered if this kind of candor could work. So I called up someone intimately familiar with gun violence and the political fight against it. Her name’s Dr. Amy Goldberg. I imagine you didn’t actually have the time to listen because you are a doctor.

Speaker 1: Absolutely. It is way too familiar. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. I hope it will make a difference. A difference with the politicians. I don’t think it will.

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Mary Harris: Dr. Goldberg is a trauma surgeon. She knows what it means to clean wounds like sailors. These wounds are so brutal that she almost hesitates to describe them.

Speaker 1: So in my 30 years as a trauma surgeon at Temple University Hospital here in North Philadelphia, I have seen way too many gunshot wound patients with all different types of guns, some small caliber or some large caliber and yes, military style wounds. And these wounds destroy.

Mary Harris: What do you mean when you say that.

Speaker 1: They make holes in the patients? They make large holes and remove parts of their bodies. It is it is horrific.

Mary Harris: Now, Dr. Goldberg has started to publicly wonder if the rest of us could see what she sees. Look at photos of the wounds she struggles to describe. Would we think about gun control differently? More urgently. She hears about testimony like Zenaida Everts. And she thinks words aren’t enough.

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Speaker 1: We can tell as many stories as we want, and this is by no means disrespectful to her or not feeling her pain. I feel her pain so much. I’m angered. I’m angered and really want want a change here as she does to.

Mary Harris: Today on the show, this trauma surgeon is sick of telling you about gun violence. She wants you to see it. For her, it’s a last ditch effort. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. How many shooting victims does your hospital see, like in an average week? How would you quantify it?

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Speaker 1: Oh, maybe on average. My God. I mean, it it could certainly be 2020. Yeah, at least two or three every day. Unfortunately.

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Mary Harris: In 2019, a medical student working at Temple started photographing what he saw at work. When gunshot victims are wheeled in. And he had a few of his photos published in the Times. The New York Times. His photos were. Stark because they know people were in them. It was the photographs of simply the the trauma bay. And it looks like a horror movie. There’s blood everywhere. Signs of how quickly people have worked. Like discarded gloves on the floor. I wonder if you worked with him and if you talk to him about documenting scenes like he did.

Speaker 1: I did work with him. He explained to me why he thought it was important to do that. I told him I wasn’t so sure it would make a difference.

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Mary Harris: What did he say when you told him that?

Speaker 1: I think maybe he thought that it would. Unfortunately, you know, we are in different stages of our careers. I’m 30 years into a career and he is at the beginning part of a career, and I’m not surprised that he thought it would make a difference. I have just witnessed, you know, the tragedies that have occurred across this country and have seen no change. Other people have shown pictures like that. Other people have, you know, told their stories and nothing seems to have made an impact.

Mary Harris: It’s funny to me to hear you say this, because you have spoken in recent weeks about how you do want people to see what you see as a doctor.

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Speaker 1: Oh, I don’t want them to see a bloody trauma bay. I want them to see a patient. I don’t think that you can deny that this is occurring. I don’t think that you can deny that these guns cause these wounds. If you are seeing it, if you are seeing it on citizens of this country, you can’t deny it.

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Mary Harris: Is there one victim that you can’t get out of your head? Like if you could show one photograph of one victim from your trauma bay? Who would it be? Is there a case that you would think about?

Speaker 1: I guess it it would be a patient that I took care of a number of years ago, you know, who was shot with these, you know, this type of military style weapon. But all of the patients that are in our trauma bays, Mary, really deserve to be seen and deserve to be heard and deserve for there to be some some change in how how easy access there is to guns or addressing of the structural and systemic racism in the inner cities. And, I mean, it’s so it’s so multifactorial, you know, that each each of the patients in my trauma bay need to be seen and need to be heard, and we need change.

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Mary Harris: What is it about that patient you saw a few years back that you think would be powerful?

Speaker 1: I think it is the sheer destruction.

Mary Harris: Can you tell me more about that?

Speaker 1: You know, the the large holes that are left in the abdominal wall of the patient, the fact that the organs come out these large holes because the wounds are so big.

Mary Harris: Were the organs literally on the outside of the body?

Speaker 1: Yes.

Mary Harris: It’s interesting to me to listen to you talk because what you’re talking about is the dignity of your patients and the respect they deserve as human beings. And I say it’s interesting because I think what you’re saying about seeing these wounds, a number of people have brought this idea up in the last couple of weeks. People have compared seeing wounds like this to Emmett Till’s open casket or pictures from Vietnam of that little girl who’d been burned by napalm.

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Mary Harris: And some people have talked about their discomfort with the fact that families of victims, if images like this became public, could be victimized again by seeing their families bodies destroyed. And I wonder whether you’ve spoken to families about this and how they’ve talked to you about their family members and and what they might be willing to show others.

Speaker 1: I have not had a conversation with a family member to show a picture, and I would never want to retraumatize anybody. I mean, you can only imagine what they’ve been through. I would never show a picture without permission, of course, and I wouldn’t show a picture that would be identifiable. I don’t think that people have to see who this is. I just think that our country, our politicians, our citizens need to see what these guns are doing. I mean, that’s the only reason. I mean, I just don’t understand. It shouldn’t take this. I mean, once you’ve thought after Sandy Hook that there would have been some common sense gun laws. But now, ten years later, more elementary school kids.

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Speaker 1: So as I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, I’ve come to the conclusion, I guess it’s going to take a picture. I guess that’s what it will take. That’s what Emmett Till’s mother thought, that it would take the pictures from Vietnam, as you said. The person who videotaped George Floyd’s murder, I mean, these these images have changed our history. And I don’t want us to wait anymore.

Mary Harris: You sound desperate.

Speaker 1: I am desperate. And so many other people.

Mary Harris: Back after a quick break. I think the idea of seeing grisly photos like this, it may strike some people as a simplistic approach, which I know is not actually what you’re thinking of here, because you’ve done so much in your role at Temple to try to curb community violence. You’ve pioneered a bunch of programs teaching people gunshot wound, first aid, giving out gun locks. Can you tell me a little bit about how you started doing this kind of work, which is not traditional trauma surgeon work?

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Speaker 1: You know, it started when I first became a trauma surgeon. And it it occurred to me that doing the operations and putting the bandages on and changing the dressings, that wasn’t enough.

Mary Harris: Because it was too late.

Speaker 1: Yes, it was too late. We needed to prevent this. We needed to educate people on what bullets do to bodies. We need to give out gun locks. We need to support our families after patients are shot. It just seemed that the the doing of the operation and doing of the surgery, which I had been trained to do, was truly no longer adequate to really providing care full 360 degree care.

Speaker 1: I’m very fortunate here at Temple University Hospital where about maybe 15 or 20 years ago I hired Scott Charles as our trauma outreach coordinator and now trauma outreach manager. And he and I have developed a number of programs that really allow us to educate our community about what gunshot wounds are and the injuries that they cause.

Mary Harris: And it sounds like Scott, he’s not a doctor. He’s a community member who goes out and represents the hospital in good faith.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I mean, Scott has a degree from Penn. A master’s degree in applied positive psychology and has really been an incredible partner with me and with our community to do what we can do to support the community, to educate the community, and to be there for our community.

Mary Harris: One of the most innovative things that you’ve done at Temple, I think, is your program where you offer gunshot victims a chance to see their trauma room treatment on video. What do you hope they get from that kind of experience?

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Speaker 1: We did that as part of our Turning Point program. We have not done that recently and the reason why we did that. So, of course, if patients didn’t want to see it, then of course we would not show it to them. But we wanted our patients to see how many people were in the trauma bay helping them, supporting them. It’s really providing an education on what these gunshot wounds do.

Speaker 1: I remember after the Uvalde shootings, you know, The New York Times had the pictures of all of the children, and it was gut wrenching, but it was all of them, you know, all totally sanitized pictures that people could have pulled down off of Facebook. And that’s not the reality. And I think as a trauma surgeon and as a hospital that serves our community, it’s important to educate people and let them know that what they might see on TV in a video game in a movie is not what we see, not what we see at all.

Mary Harris: I wonder who you think the people are that need to see these photos. Because I feel like most Americans are horrified by the mass shootings we’ve seen. And there’s good research that most Americans want, quote unquote, common sense gun laws. Have you ever thought about taking pictures to Washington?

Speaker 1: Be more than happy to take pictures to Washington.

Mary Harris: Do you think it would make a difference?

Speaker 1: I would think it would make a difference. I think the politicians can’t imagine what these guns do. I don’t think that as a society, we either want to see these injuries. We’re comfortable seeing these injuries and we want to believe that that doesn’t really happen. So I think for sure the politicians would be the first start. And I think the country needs to see the pictures to marry.

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Mary Harris: Its talking politics. Comfortable for you?

Speaker 1: No, of course not. What’s comfortable for me is to take care of patients. Do operations educate? You know our patients educate our students and our residents. That’s my comfort zone. You know that that’s that’s that’s where I am. That’s where I live. But at this point, I don’t I just can’t stay silent.

Mary Harris: It’s funny, I thought going into this conversation that I’d perceived a change in you because you’d said in previous interviews how hopeless you thought things were in terms of moving the needle on gun violence and gun legislation. And I had this feeling that part of the reason you were speaking out so much was because you thought maybe that had changed, that things could change. But it seems to be more. Like You think both things are true, that it’s very unlikely things will change, but that if there’s one narrow pathway showing these photos might be it.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I think we have a moment now. I think we have a moment now as a country. To make a difference. I think we can make real change now. And we can’t cannot lose this opportunity. We cannot. We deserve better.

Mary Harris: Dr. Goldberg, I’m really grateful for your time. Thank you.

Speaker 1: Oh, thank you, Mary. I appreciate getting to speak with you today.

Mary Harris: Dr. Amy Goldberg is the interim dean of the Louis Katz School of Medicine and surgeon in chief at Temple University Health System. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Elena Schwartz, Mary Wilson and Carmel Delshad. We are getting a ton of support right now from Sam Kim and Anna Rubanova. We are led by Joanne Levine and Alisha Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. When we’ll be back in this feed tomorrow.