Friday, December 10, 2004

Assault with a hamburger

Here's a story that only sounds humorous: Man charged with assaulting store clerk with hamburger. A 37 year old male was charged with simple assault and criminal mischief (misdemeanors) after he lost his temper with a convenience store clerk who didn't want him to pay for a hamburger while he was still heating it in the store's microwave. After a verbal exchange, the customer returned to the microwave, removed the now steaming patty, and in lieu of payment "shoved it into the clerk's face, burning his face and eye."

Rather than comment on the other dangers of eating hamburger (e.g., E. coli O157, BSE, coronary artery disease) I'll refer you instead to the "Weekly Toll" over at Confined Space (I seem to be linking to Jordan Barab's superb health and safety site a lot lately). There you can read about more than a dozen workplace homicides that took place over the last week. Here's a small sample:
Cab driver killed in $150 robbery

Jersey City, N.J. — A cab driver working his way through medical school was shot and killed while being robbed of $150, authorities said. Investigators said Rady Khella, 25, was shot sometime after he picked up his last official fare early Thursday. There were no suspects. Police found only small change in his pockets.

Man charged with killing boss

Benton, AR -- A Thanksgiving day shooting leaves on man dead and another is behind bars. It happened just before noon at the ArkLaTex Nexus Bar north of Benton. Deputies tell us 58-year-old Charles Williams shot his boss, 55-year-old Larry Broome, in the chest. Broome owned the bar and Williams had been working there for about four months. Broome was pronounced dead at LSU Health Sciences Center. Williams is charged with manslaughter.

Taxi Driver Killed

Anchorage, AL -- On Wednesday, November 17, police in Barrow found 33-year-old cab driver Sangkhom “Sam” Promdongloiv dying of a gunshot wound in his taxi. Police say he was a Thai man whose driver's license listed an Anchorage address. Promdongloi later died at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

Gas Station Worker Killed in Robbery

A gas station worker was shot and killed yesterday during what detectives believe was a robbery, the authorities said. The victim, a 40-year-old man who the police believe was from Nigeria, had not been identified last night. He was killed about 8:30 a.m. at the gas station at 187-47 Jamaica Avenue in Hollis while a co-worker was out getting coffee, the police said. William K. Rashbaum (NYT)

Violence on the job continues to constitute about one in six job-related fatalities. Almost half occur in the South. Bureau of Labor Statistics studies show a significant relationship between a local unemployment rate and occupational homicide rates. Jobs involving retail transactions are the riskiest with taxi drivers leading the list with a mortality 36 times the homicide rates of all employed persons. For assaults, the grocery/convenience store clerk of our story is also typical. The majority of victims are men.

It won't surprise you to hear that many of these homicides involve guns. Public health has recognized for years that violence, and gun violence particularly, is a public health problem. But in the 1990s CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control was muzzled by congress. Prior to this CDC had taken an active leadership role in performing and funding research into the causes of gun injury. For their trouble, they were threatened by NRA lackeys in Congress and told they could neither carry out nor support such research. The Center's budget was also slashed. So one of our nation's leading health agencies now has explicit language for its state health department grantees stipulating they cannot use their federal funds directly or indirectly to support any measures that might provide support for gun controls. Such broad language arguably (and as a matter of practical politics) even includes educational activities. Since a major preventive technique usually involves removing or controlling exposure to the cause of the injury, this is a crippling constraint.

I have been critical of CDC here, but in this case I think the agency did its best and what it could. So the question then is, given these facts, where can public health leadership come from?

This is one of many such questions I will be posing here. It is not good enough to throw up our hands and say there is nothing public health can do and leave it to gun control advocates to carry the burden. I will do my best to suggest some things in future posts. Perhaps our steadily growing daily readership would also like to weigh in.

Department of oversight: In the post I should have noted a superb public health site dedicated to gun violence and substance abuse, Join Together, a model of what this kind of site can be. Very impressive.