Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Outrage over Deaths Should Focus on Infant Mortality

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Outrage over Deaths Should Focus on Infant Mortality

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee, Times-Union columnist

Last year, Sammie Evans wound up dying from a broken neck as a rookie police officer tried to arrest him for having an open container of beer. His death incited a New Year's Day protest and claims of widespread police brutality from leaders in the black community.

As I said in an earlier column, Evans shouldn't be dead. Yet, it's too bad that the people who were driven to the streets by their outrage over his death won't reserve some of that indignation for those blacks who won't even live to drinking age.

Last week Jacksonville Community Council Inc. released its 2004 Quality of Life Progress Report. As it has for the past 20 years, the report measures the health of the city in many areas.

According to the JCCI's findings, young black people aren't faring too well. Too many don't get to celebrate their first birthday. Too many are contracting HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

And unless there is more outrage over this, and more people willing to take steps to combat it, the problem is likely to worsen.

In 2001 a well-meaning group, Hold Out the Lifeline, pushed empty strollers down Moncrief Road to draw attention to the fact that 13 out of every 1,000 black infants born in Jacksonville were dying before their first birthday. Today that number now stands at 16 out of 1,000. Meaning that a black child born in Jacksonville is more than twice as likely to die in infancy than a child born in Cuba -- which is considered a Third World country. The infant mortality rate there is 6.4 deaths per 1,000.

Then there's the fact that black people who make up 29 percent of Jacksonville's population now make up 69 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV cases. More and more of those cases involve adolescents, health department officials say.

I find all this to be profoundly disturbing -- for a number of reasons.

First of all, the high black infant mortality rate isn't one that is solely rooted in lack of access to prenatal care, but rather in the condition of the mother prior to becoming pregnant. Many black mothers, a disproportionate number of whom grapple with stresses associated with poverty, low self-esteem and racism, wind up seeing doctors late in pregnancy. …

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