A medical student perspective on George Floyd’s murder

Recently in Minneapolis, George Floyd was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, including almost three minutes after Floyd was unresponsive. This senseless murder is now added to an already long list of occurrences of police brutality that disproportionately affects communities of color. The need for an independent autopsy to confirm the accurate cause of Floyd’s death, “asphyxiation from sustained pressure,” provides further evidence of a systemic issue in our criminal justice system that intrinsically protects cops at all cost, even with the presence of video evidence. Let’s recognize that it took about two months for Gregory and Travis McMichael to be arrested for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was simply jogging through a Georgia neighborhood. Let’s recognize that Breonna Taylor, an emergency room technician, was killed in her Kentucky home after a questionable no-knock warrant was carried out by police looking for a suspect who was not her nor lived at that residence. When will enough be enough?

Protests have engulfed our nation over this past weekend. In Nashville, organizers of the “I Will Breathe” rally condemned Saturday night’s destruction around Legislative Plaza. As one of the organizers, the Equity Alliance empowers African-Americans and other communities of color to engage civic processes, especially voting. Voting is a civic activity that allows citizens to elect officials that will pass healthcare policies that affect them. Elected officials of any political affiliation could enact laws today reforming our criminal justice system. Dismantling racism should not be a partisan issue. Though it is still important to register and vote, voting alone will not cure racism. Everyone, both in the public and private sector, has a role to play in dismantling racism.

I am concerned about some in the medical profession who may consider calling out police brutality as “inflammatory.” I am concerned about those who use the violence of rioters to overshadow the voices of peaceful protestors. I am concerned about how I may be policed by my peers and future colleagues on how I communicate racial issues. Dr. Uché Blackstock “made the difficult decision to leave [her] faculty position at an academic medical center after more than nine years there because of a toxic and oppressive work environment that instilled in [her] fear of retaliation for being vocal about racism and sexism within the institution.” In presenting my research on food insecurity, a judge informed me, “I find your project interesting, but I don’t have time to implement a screener.” While disappointed, my desire intensified to join others in the healthcare workforce who make time to assess patients’ social determinants of health with a mission of eliminating health disparities. My perspective is important; everybody’s perspective is important. We must be willing to have these difficult conversations without fear of retribution. A high standard of professionalism must be maintained by a physician at all times. However, we must use the same ethical code we follow when providing patient care to advocate for policy changes.

American Medical Association (AMA) “policy recognizes that physical or verbal violence between law enforcement officers and the public, particularly among black and brown communities where these incidents are more prevalent and pervasive, is a critical determinant of health and supports research into the public health consequences of these violent interactions.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and many other medical subspecialty organizations have condemned the racism that has incited protests in recent days. As future medical providers, medical students have a role in advocating for patient populations of all races, color, gender, or socioeconomic status. While looking outside the sphere of healthcare and recognizing racism in our communities, we must also hold ourselves accountable in addressing racial inequalities within our profession: the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related deaths, the higher risk of being uninsured for individuals with incomes below the poverty line, as well as the disproportionate race-based morbidity and mortality of COVID-19. On May 27, CNN commenter Don Lemon said, “There are two major crises in this country tonight, two deadly viruses killing Americans: COVID-19 and racism-20.” Discrimination of any kind has no place in the healthcare profession. Racism is a public health issue. Racism is a societal issue. Racism must be dismantled.

As a biracial man, I recognize that I benefit from privileges that I would not have if I was of a darker skin complexion. In race-based conversations, peers have commented, “Jacob, you’re only half-black.” Attempting to discredit my racial background will not prevent me from speaking out against racial injustice. Regardless of racial identity, we all should be vocal advocates in eradicating racism in our communities. I am hopeful that, in the future, the medical community deepens a commitment to anti-racist policies in our healthcare system as well as in our global community. It’s okay to not have solutions or wholeheartedly know your role. However, we all should be open to learning and moving forward in fixing our society’s racial divide. Many people have decided years ago enough is enough. Have you had enough?

Jacob Uskavitch is a medical student and can be reached on Twitter @jacobuskavitch.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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