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A Phoenix Fiction Writer Rising From The Ashes of Nonfiction

Issues

 


 

DBlack Lives Matter? 

At one time I thought they did, but I have been proven wrong. Marches by Black activists nationwide chanting “Black Lives Matter” and police supporters chanting “Police Lives Matter” seems rather pointless to me knowing what I now know. Black activists charge that it was purely White racism behind the police killings of unarmed Black men while police supporters point to the endemic violence among Black youth that results in more being killed by each other than by police. Both miss the point.

Implicit, or often explicit, in this discussion is the charge by those defending police that the endemic violence among Black males made police justifiably trigger happy. The recent senseless killing of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer who was not charged in the killing immediately reminded me of what I had learned.

The police officer claimed that an irritated Brown impulsively attacked him with aggression and violence from which the officer was defending himself. I doubted that the police officer knew that what he described were precisely the typical symptoms of lead poisoning: irritability, impulsivity, aggression and violence.

I already knew that extensive medical research had shown for decades that childhood lead poisoning was associated with adult criminal violence and aggression. I had compiled a summary of that research in 2001 which revealed that lead poisoning was endemic in low-income Black neighborhoods.

Childhood lead poisoning was also shown to reduce I.Q., even at low blood lead levels (BLLs), by a half standard deviation. Learning difficulties and low test scores were shown also at low BLLs. Mothers lead poisoned as children had lead stored in their bones become mobilized during pregnancy to poison their fetus. One study in Kalamazoo, Michigan, found that half the children born in an inner-city hospital tested positive for lead poisoning at birth.

There was even a President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children at the end of the last millennium tasked to eliminate lead from the housing stock by 2010, but little was actually achieved. I believe little was achieved because it was primarily Black children who were poisoned. But we are now living in the midst of the consequences of allowing Black children to be lead poisoned with the well-known consequence that the typical symptoms of irritability, impulsivity, aggression, violence and an inability to learn will ensure that they become the frustrated angry young men feared by police who see those symptoms as indicative of being Black rather than being lead poisoned.

When I read about Michael Brown's killing and the eruption of controversy, it reminded me of those days when I had become involved with the lead poisoning prevention community. They pleaded for funds to remove lead-based paint from low-income housing because they knew that lead poisoning was a reason for this endemic violence. Their efforts largely encountered widespread indifference.

I wondered whether Ferguson might be an area of endemic lead poisoning, so I went online and googled "lead-poisoning +Missouri." Among the results was a map of lead poisoning in St. Louis County showing the required lead testing by zip code.

Ironically the map was mostly colored brown with two small green areas. The brown area represented zip codes where testing was only done if a questionnaire indicated children 6 and under might be at risk. The small green zip codes were where blood lead testing was mandatory for every child 6 years old and under because lead poisoning was endemic in those areas.

One of the green areas was a clump of zip codes on the southwest edge of the city of St. Louis, each zip code about medium size in area compared to the rest of the zip codes. The other green area was a single small zip code farther north, about halfway between the larger clump and the northeast county border. It was a very small green zip code all by itself, so small it was about one-fourth the size of the next smallest zip code. What was most interesting about this singular tiny green zip code all by itself was that it bordered on the lower west side of the much larger zip code which contained the City of Ferguson.

That small zip code had its own name: Kinloch, the first incorporated Black community in the state. Kinloch had essentially been destroyed recently when the St. Louis airport bought up most of the land to expand the airport. Kinloch had lost 80 percent of its population from 1990 to 2000. Logically, the more affluent would be the first to move, leaving the impoverished behind, and during that period, according to Wikipedia:

Kinloch became an increasingly violent and dangerous place to live, infested with drugs and crime. The police department faced numerous investigations, and over a 20-year period a number of officers were arrested on corruption charges. In September 2002, St. Louis County police chief Ron Battelle directed his department to take control of law enforcement in Kinloch. The city's population had dwindled to 449, and there was talk of disincorporation, which was renewed in 2011, when Mayor Keith Conway faced federal charges for using city funds to pay for personal expenses, including a vacation home in Florida.

One news source covering the Michael Brown killing reported on August 20 of this year that:

Many of those from Kinloch were forced to move to other nearby municipalities such as Florissant, Berkeley and Ferguson, where historic laws had long forbidden black citizens from owning land. Many ended up in the Canfield Green apartment complex, where Mike Brown lived and died.

Thus when you read about Michael Brown in Ferguson, you have to understand that we are really seeing the consequences of endemic childhood lead poisoning and its effect on a community. Childhood lead poisoning results in higher levels of violent crime: a recent longitudinal study of lead poisoning in Cleveland, Ohio, demonstrated this fact conclusively two decades after a statistical study in Philadelphia had implied the same consequence. Childhood lead poisoning has a strong correlation with adult violent crime.

All of this was especially known in the St. Louis area as it arose as a mayoral election issue in a published 2004 Green Party essay by Don Fitz that stated:

During the 1980's evidence relating lead to violence mounted. A report by the American Chemical Society which is summarized in the August 5, 2004 Rachel's Environment & Health News (No. 797) details connections between brain chemistry, lead, alcohol, and violence. The brain chemical serotonin inhibits impulsiveness. Serotonin helps people to think before they act. People with low levels of serotonin find it harder to consider the consequences of what they do. Research verifies that prisoners with low serotonin levels commit more frequent aggressive behavior and more violent behavior or are more likely to have set fires impulsively. Research also shows that lead reduces levels of serotonin.

It simply cannot be a coincidence that Kinloch was an isolated green zip code with endemic lead poisoning where police corruption and endemic violence flourished. Lead poisoning is known to specifically cripple the human forebrain area that controls emotions and inhibits violence. It creates symptoms of irritability, impulsivity, aggression and violence that police learn to anticipate in encounters with Black men. The irrational responses of lead poisoned criminals leads to frustration and anger among police as rational policies seem to be ineffective. So police adopt the irrational belief that police violence is justified.

I have read research showing increased aggression and violence in cats and rats that were lead poisoned in controlled experiments. The most disturbing is that normal male rats often fight and when one rat is losing it bares its throat and the other rat backs off, except they discovered that lead poisoned rats don't back off but rather continue to fight and kill the other rat. The inhibition part of the brain is destroyed by lead poisoning even in rats.

Research in the last decade has shown that leaded gasoline produced increased violent crime in the United States and other countries until it was banned. The research showed that the levels of lead in the environment from leaded gasoline had a high correlation with violent crime rates lagged by 20 years. In other words, children poisoned by lead grew up to have more violent adult lives, but when leaded gasoline was banned the reduction in lead poisoning was followed by a reduction in violent crime 20 years later.

This became a very public issue in the 2000 presidential campaign when former New York City mayor Giuliani campaigned that he had turned crime around in the city through increased aggressive policing. However, others showed that NYC had the same decrease in violent crime as other cities simply from the ban on leaded gasoline. There was no noticeable reduction in NYC violent crime compared to other cities. But it became a social issue even after the election because Giuliani's claim seemed to justify police departments cracking down on citizens.

Salon magazine editor Joan Walsh wrote recently (Dec 29, 2014): “The epidemic of police violence against unarmed black men under Giuliani - the killings of Patrick Dorismund and Amadou Diallo; the sodomizing of Abner Louima with a broom handle at a Brooklyn precinct - proceeded with no apologies from the mayor. Dorismund was 'no altar boy,' Giuliani insisted - though in fact the dead man had been an altar boy.”

That crackdown was imposed primarily on those citizens who continued to engage in violent crime even after the ban on leaded gasoline: the Black population that was lead poisoned from other environmental sources, primarily deteriorating lead-based paint but in some cases the residual soil contamination in high traffic urban neighborhoods from leaded gasoline that had settled out of the air. So it was, and is, well known that excessive violent crime among the impoverished inner-city Black population is directly due to lead poisoning but society has apparently decided that Black lives don't matter so it is easier to shoot or imprison them than to prevent them from being lead poisoned.

Strangely, I have read in the literature about Black communities being torn between these characteristically violent and aggressive males and unpoisoned Black members equally terrorized by them. It is not simply racist cops who fear the violence and aggression. Chris Rock had stand-up comedy routines on this dichotomy where he attempted to assign the White slur of "nigger" to those violent aggressive members of the Black community.

But it remains that many White people, including many police, see the consequences of lead poisoning as indicative of being Black rather than of being lead poisoned. The extensive medical research demonstrating those consequences has been adequately publicized in popular news media for decades. Ignoring this research indicates a willful ignorance in society that chooses to ignore reality in the current confrontation between police and Black activists. Indeed, the 2001 summary of lead poisoning that I wrote was titled “A Strange Ignorance”.

The issue is complicated because of that 20 year lag noted by research studies in violent crime. Stopping lead poisoning among the children of the Black community today will not stop the propensity of those already poisoned toward violence and aggression for another 20 years.

Actually longer than 20 years because young girls already lead poisoned today will poison their children in utero 20 years from now and those children will have the propensity toward violence and aggression that results 20 years from birth due to the crippling of the developing forebrain in children.

If American society actually felt that Black lives mattered, then there would be an impetus to eliminate lead poisoning in young Black children, since it is Black children who are primarily affected. But amidst the rancor and chants of the current political confrontation I haven't heard any calls for ending the cause of the symptoms that create the confrontation. There should be chants of “Black lives matter - end lead poisoning NOW!” but I haven't heard or read of any.

So part of the dichotomy I see in the confrontation over “Black Lives Matter” represents the investment of each side in a mythical Devil. To Black activists it is the White Devil trying to place the blame for Black problems on the Black community, and the claim that lead poisoning is involved is just another example. To police supporters it is the Black Devil of violence and aggression that makes police react violently, and the claim that lead poisoning is involved undermines their reliance on cracking down violently against crime.

Police are wedded to the Giuliani myth that a police crackdown reduced violent crime, thus justifying current police violence. Black activists are wedded to the myth that White racism creates their problems, thus justifying ignoring attempts to eliminate lead poisoning.

If Black lives matter then they matter in the first years of brain development. There is nothing that can be done 20 years later because the brain damage created by childhood lead poisoning is irreversible. Thus the confrontation between Black activists claiming “Black Lives Matter” while totally ignoring that much of the problems between the Black community in Ferguson and the Ferguson police are a consequence of lead poisoning signaled by the green zip code of Kinloch essentially proves that Black lives don't matter to either of them.

However, there exists a vibrant active community of people, Black and White, involved in eliminating lead poisoning nationally, and even internationally. They struggle in the shadows, ignored by Black activists and White community supporters alike. Occasionally they succeed in getting federal dollars inserted into the federal budget for grants to clean up lead in neighborhoods, and then there are local officials suddenly willing to expend some efforts to get those federal dollars. But it is a rare local or state government that commits their own dollars toward ending the scourge of lead poisoning. Again, Black lives just don't seem to matter.

Ironically, some of the most active people I encountered in the lead poisoning prevention community were White mothers of children who had been inadvertently lead poisoned because of lead-based paint in housing they were trying to renovate without knowing about the existence and toxicity of lead dust. These mothers were shocked by the consequences that faced their children. The understood the cognitive damage that lead poisoned inflicted and began organizing people to prevent it from happening to others. Lead Safe America Foundation is just such an organization that is preparing a national documentary on lead poisoning titled “Mislead: America's Secret Epidemic” due to be released in 2015.

I don't expect to see police supporters or Black activists involved in viewing or promoting the movie or the issue of lead poisoning. But the reality is that both sides are dancing with mythical Devils concocted from their ignorance of the epidemic of lead poisoning that exists primarily in the inner-city Black neighborhoods where impoverished children live with deteriorating lead-based paint. If American society felt that Black lives actually did matter that is where efforts would be expended to ensure that environmental lead cannot poison children with a known neurotoxin that creates childhood brain damage specifically known to create violent behavior 20 years later.

It isn't that criminal incarcerations vastly over-represent Black men because of Black moral failures or White racial injustice, it is because lead poisoning creates a propensity for Black men to commit impulsive violent crimes. We know that from medical research showing a dose related association between childhood lead poisoning and adult violent crime.

It isn't that Black unemployment is high because Black men are lazy or White employers are racists, it is because the symptoms of lead poisoning, such as irritability, impulsivity, aggression, violence and an inability to learn make their employability problematic.

It isn't that a disproportionate number of Black families are headed by women because Black men refuse to support their families, it is because the same symptoms that make employability problematic make living together in marriage problematic, especially for unemployed men.

It isn't that predominantly Black schools have bad teachers that produce low test scores, it is because lead poisoning creates a loss of intelligence and impairs the ability to learn.

If American society actually believes that Black lives really matter we would do something about the endemic lead poisoning of Black children, but we don't. So make your own conclusion.

 

 


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