Jalil Frazier’s text was urgent.
“I really need your help.”
Even before I sent a reply, I had a pretty good idea what was behind his plea.
Frazier and I first connected in 2018, a few months after he was shot and paralyzed while trying to shield a cluster of children from a gunman’s bullets during a robbery at a North Philadelphia barbershop. Frazier couldn’t afford to reconfigure the Olney rowhouse where he lived with features that could accommodate his wheelchair. As a result, he spent most nights snatching fragments of sleep on a narrow hospital bed that had been wedged into what used to be the family dining room.
Four years later, he is still trying to find accessible housing in the city.
The latest mass shooting casualties may have captured the nation’s attention — this time with proposals that represent gun safety baby steps. But gun violence survivors are still left to scrounge for basic necessities.
“I’m just looking and praying every day,” Frazier, who’s 32, told me recently.
Over the years, I’ve chronicled his roller coaster of a recovery in this column and in a 2018 Inquirer report written with my colleague David Gambacorta that spotlighted the physical, emotional, and financial burdens of paralyzed gun violence victims across the nation.
In response to that article, two Democratic Pennsylvania lawmakers in Congress — Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Dwight Evans — championed the Resources for Victims of Gun Violence Act, which would create a federal advisory council tasked with making it easier for victims to find and obtain sorely needed assistance.
It was a welcome and, I naively thought, easy ask.
The proposal didn’t have even a whisper of infringing on the sacred Second Amendment. If anything, it was more an acknowledgment that since we should expect gun violence to continue — as it does — why not, at the very least, help survivors.
The legislation was introduced — once in 2019 and then again in 2021 — and both times it stalled with not a single Republican member of Congress agreeing to cosponsor.
But that was then.
Before it was widely known that, in 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children.
Before those legislative baby steps.
With that in mind, I wondered if now might be the moment when the plan put forth by Casey and Evans could gain some traction. When I reached out to them to check on the status of the bill, both were optimistic that the recent bipartisan agreement in Congress might signal a smoother path forward for their proposal.
“For the first time in almost thirty years, the Senate is on the cusp of passing commonsense gun legislation,” Casey said in a statement. “This proposal isn’t perfect, but I’m encouraged that we could have an opportunity to enact meaningful gun safety measures, while also investing in mental health treatment, including for victims of living with the trauma from constant gun violence in their communities.” Evans, who said he’s relentlessly trying to garner more support, said there are now 87 cosponsors of the bill.
Let me briefly pause here to say that we should be hopeful that for now there is at least some political appetite to prevent future carnage. Truly.
But we keep taking baby steps forward, which are often accompanied by a giant leap backward. Case in point: Thursday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which made it easier for people in New York to carry handguns even as Congress was finalizing its own gun safety deal.
So until something concrete gets done, we need to deal with the reality that comes with living in a country that has pledged allegiance to guns.
That reality means people are waking up each day in hospital beds in Philadelphia and Uvalde and Everywhere, USA, only to learn that their lives will never be the same — thousands upon thousands who are usually described vaguely in news reports as having been “wounded” in shootings across the United States.
In Philadelphia, precise figures on the number of paralyzed survivors remain elusive, but a recent estimate by the city’s health department indicated that as many as 1 in 7 shooting victims ends up paralyzed in some way. More than 1,800 people in the city were shot and survived last year alone.
“It’s just the perfect storm of chaos in the lives of these individuals,” said Scott Charles, Temple University Hospital’s longtime trauma outreach manager, who recently created the Trauma Victims Support Advocates Program to help crime victims access resources.
“For many families, most of their energy is focused on ‘How do we keep our heads above emotional and financial water?’” Charles said. “It’s incredibly difficult for folks to adjust to this new life, and then they have to deal with the bureaucracy of finding the help they need.”
I’ve recruited many people over the years to help Frazier get housing, but between the dearth of accessible housing in the city and the long waiting lists for the limited spaces that are available, we kept coming up short.
About a year after Frazier was shot, he and his family gave up trying to modify their rowhouse and moved to New Jersey.
There, they found a place that was accessible enough; a neighbor built a platform to get Frazier in and out of the house.
But now Frazier wants to renew his efforts to find housing in the city.
I put his plea on Twitter — a route that far too many people in this country are forced to take when the systems that should help them are broken and they’re left to crowdsource health care. A few people who have the means to do something took notice and are trying to get Frazier into new housing.
When it comes to gun violence in our city, it is too late to do anything for the dead except mourn. At the very least, we can try to help the living.
Staff writer David Gambacorta contributed to this column.