I’ve worried about some of the things Jalil Frazier has said online. Usually I see the posts pop up late at night, and I can’t help but picture a young father sitting in suffocating stillness while his family sleeps, feeling trapped in a life that he is trying to piece back together after he stepped between a bullet and three kids during a 2018 barbershop robbery.
“If I had a choice, I would’ve took death over this wheelchair,” read one of his posts.
Friends online are quick to step in to offer support. By morning, Frazier always seems to bounce back. And while I still notice the occasional frustrated post, they seem less frequent, outnumbered by messages full of hope and purpose. He’s working it out, he makes clear, but he’s still finding his way.
“So glad I made it,” read a recent post.
I’ve written about Frazier a few times while chronicling the growing fraternity of gun-violence survivors who are left with lifelong disabilities and a scavenger hunt of a system for some of the most basic services.
After the shooting, people called Frazier a hero. But he’s made no secret of the realities of adjusting to his new life as he and his family continue to search for help, including accessible housing. To find an affordable one-level house, he had to leave Philadelphia for New Jersey.
Even when he’s managed to access resources, Frazier told me that he has found the most comfort in other young survivors he usually finds online. He’s told me on multiple occasions that he wished there was a way to connect with more, and maybe in person.
Determining how many people there are in his situation has proven to be difficult, as my colleague David Gambacorta and I have found. But here are a few things that tell us there are a lot more people in Frazier’s position than we know: Since 2015, over 4,000 people have survived shootings in Philadelphia. The victims were disproportionately black, male, and young. One surgeon alone at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania has handled at least 85 gunshot paralysis cases since 2012. I’ve met about two dozen in my own reporting who echoed Frazier’s frustrations and needs.
I’ve looked for support groups or programs that work specifically with paralyzed gunshot victims. But I’ve found little to nothing for people in his situation. And if they are out there, they are not doing a good enough job of reaching the people who need them.
The idea of connecting with people in Frazier’s situation came up again a couple of weeks ago, after the fourth annual Fill the Steps Against Gun Violence gathering at the Art Museum. I’d never seen him as talkative or animated when we sought cover from the rain under a tree while his wife went to get their car.
Admittedly charged by the attendance on the steps, I declared that if a group like the one he envisioned doesn’t exist, I’d do what I could to help him create one.
I turned to Scott Charles, trauma outreach coordinator for Temple University Hospital and the director of its Cradle to Grave Program, a hospital-based violence-prevention initiative that illustrates the realities of gun violence for young people.
He was in. The trauma department would host the first meeting. Perfect, considering Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia treats more gunshot victims than any other institution in the state.
Charles and I kicked around some ideas. It would be important to get someone with some expertise in group therapy. It would be ideal, based on the needs of Frazier and other gunshot victims struggling with disabilities — some that are visible, some that aren’t — to have someone who could help them access immediate services. Gunshot survivors shouldn’t have to figure out how to hunt down help while trying to put their lives back together.
But it should be up to the people like Frazier to decide what form the group should take, and whom it should include, and what they want from it. They know their needs best, and anyone in a position to help should listen to what they want and do whatever they can to make it happen.