Police brutality and the pandemic: is there a connection?
A disease enters our country from another part of the world, and within weeks is ravaging the United States. By April, this novel coronavirus was killing more African Americans at a rate faster than any other racial group in the United States.
For a blink of the eye, there seemed to be an uproar. Then before you could open your eyes, the conversation was over — a foregone conclusion. Where was the support? Where were the resources for hard-hit communities? Where was the initiative to decrease all of the black bodies being put in refrigerator trucks and being buried in unmarked graves? Where was the increased testing, where was the empathy, where was the help? It was nonexistent.
Then in Minneapolis, a police officer put his weight on the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (digestive tract) of a human being, and no other person in power physically tried to remove him.
As a surgeon having operated on both of those anatomic areas, I promise you, that action will end a life. It does not take much, and the pressure of an adult man for greater than eight minutes is more than enough. Not one of three other officers present stopped and acknowledged that this is a lack of humanity, nor what their punishment might be if they killed this man. Why? They had privilege, and believed their life was of more value than George Floyd’s.
Murder from police brutality, combined with no swift, concentrated, and deliberate effort to decrease the spread of the coronavirus disease in the black community: What is the message they send? That our lives don’t matter to those in power. If we want change, we must create it. We have seen time and again: No one cares about us but us. We were brought to America, our families broken, lives lost, lifetimes taken, women raped, men lynched, and children left to fend for themselves. Then after over 200 hundred years, someone in power proclaimed: “OK, you’re free now, go do something with yourselves — while I have my foot on your neck.”
Here we are, a century later, and I am so very tired of the feeling I feel right now.
I am not asking for a handout, nor your pity party. But I ask that nonblack people in America acknowledge the facts and know the history. In 1911, my great-grandmother was picking cotton in Spartanburg, S.C., forced to build the legacy and foundation for Americans in power so they could continue to rule over those with less.
Here we are, a century later, and I am so very tired of the feeling I feel right now. Living your entire life fighting an uphill battle, wondering if this time when I get pulled over by a police officer, will it be the last breath I take. Filled with the angst of questioning: Will my three black sons have an opportunity to truly see their potential in life when the world sees them as a threat?
These tears I cry today, however, and all the days before will not drown me.
I will continue to use my voice, my knowledge, my power, my money, and every resource I have to save the African American lives that are forgotten. No one who could stop his death spoke up for George Floyd, just as no one is coming to our rescue with COVID-19 with the speed and alacrity that was moved to get the SpaceX shuttle into orbit.
But I am not the only African American doctor, lawyer, professional, businessman, sanitation employee, bus driver, judge, actress, housecleaner, worker who cares for African Americans. Black America: We are here, and we are working as fast and as hard as we can to save us. Please hold tight and have faith. God created us as a resilient, strong, and caring people. We face adversity beyond belief, and our unmasked hues bring forth prejudice and injustice in medicine, the criminal justice system, and every walk of life. But we will rise. Our strength is infinite and infused by the sacrifice of our ancestors. To borrow from Langston Hughes: “Beautiful, also, is the sun. Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.”
I have believed that all of my life and will continue to believe it forever. So as my final plea, I ask you, America, to start caring for black people the way we have cared and continue to care for you.
Ala Stanford, a board-certified pediatric surgeon, founded Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium in her hometown of Philadelphia. The BDCC has provided free COVID-19 testing for nearly 5,000 primarily African Americans in Philadelphia, the surrounding counties, and Camden in less than 20 testing days, without city, state, or federal funding.