So, I sat in on a (fantastic) panel about the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore the other day at the NABJ convention. Naturally, Korryn Gaines came up (briefly) in the discussion. One panelist offered an important point I haven't seen mentioned widely: Gaines suffered from severe lead poisoning.
I'm kind of familiar with the issue (I used to edit a news & opinion site that spent a lot of time talking about the crisis in Baltimore and the evil companies that are exploiting the people damaged by it). Point? Lead poisoning is real. It irreversibly causes severe brain damage, extreme behavioral disorders and severely lowers IQ. This isn't guess-work—it's backed up by years of study and research.
From The Guardian, August 5, 2016:
"The negative cognitive effects of lead have been widely documented, especially for children under six years old. A 2002 University of Pittsburgh study looked at the lead levels in 146 youths convicted in juvenile court against a control group of 146 youths without a criminal record and found “that the delinquent youths had significantly higher mean concentrations of lead”.
“Lead interrupts the stress reaction and so it distorts the way people view threats and so I think that’s absolutely germane to both Freddie Gray and Korryn Gaines,” said Lawrence Brown, a professor of public health at Morgan State University. “If [lead poisoning] is in fact disturbing and exaggerating the threat then you can understand why Freddie Gray is running and why Korryn Gaines has a shotgun when the police are knocking on her door.”
To make matters even worse, last year, it was reported (though not nearly enough outlets picked up the story and continued to follow it the way they should have) that there are companies blatantly robbing the victims of lead poisoning, whose brain function and cognitive reasoning is already severely impaired due to the poisoning.
From The Washington Post, August 27, 2015
"State lawmakers need to enact true protections, and those who have been complicit in exploiting these vulnerable people, including judges who have enabled opportunistic businesses, should be held accountable. The disgraceful practices of companies that purchase the rights to court-awarded settlements paid out monthly to lead paint victims were detailed in a searing exposé by The Post’s Terrence McCoy. Baltimore, with long-standing problems of decaying and dangerous housing, has been a primary hunting ground. Those victimized are poor people, many of whom suffered severe cognitive brain damage as the result of childhood exposure to lead paint.
The Post’s investigation detailed how these people have been preyed upon by companies that purchase the rights to their structured settlements for a bare fraction of their value. Among the cases cited was a victim who sold nearly $327,000 worth of payments, which had a present-day value of $179,000, for less than $16,200 — about 9 cents on the dollar."
If you want to read more detail about lead poisoning and predatory companies, check out this article by the Post. If it doesn't infuriate you, there's a good chance you aren't human.
The Guardian reports that Korryn Gaines suffered from severe lead poisoning. Her lawsuit said she grew up in “a sea of lead” and had a lifetime lead level of 12 mg/dL. Her suit alleges that Korryn “suffered permanent brain damage resulting in developmental and behavioral injuries”. As a point of reference, according to the CDC, contamination occurs at 5 mg. However, “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.”
Again, Korryn's lead level was reportedly 12 mg. You want to know why a vibrant, 23 year-old woman with a 5 year-old child would point a shotgun at police who were trying to serve her a warrant for freaking traffic violations? Perhaps start there.
Most people, most sane people, don't want to be shot to death. Yet, I saw that speculation all over my timeline following Korryn's death. The first thought, I think, should be to question why. People suggested that she doesn't deserve to be mentioned with other black victims of state-sanctioned police violence. But if these reports are correct, Korryn, in many ways, was actually a double victim. And let's just say she didn't suffer brain damage and didn't have behavioral disorders based on the severely high levels of lead in her system—the truth is, a 23 year-old mother was shot and killed following a stand-off with police, ultimately because police came to serve her a warrant for traffic violations. Not murder. Not rape. Not a mass killing. Traffic violations. She was shot while she held her child in her arms, and police fired first. Her 5 year-old son was also shot by police. He will never get over that, witnessing his mother be shot to death. It will be with him forever. That, more than anything, makes me incredibly sad.
Hopefully, more light is shed on lead poisoning and its disproportionate effects on poor black people, as well as the people who are intent on further exploiting the victims. And hopefully, we'll start asking "why" first.