It has now been ten days since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. The officer’s knee was on Mr. Floyd’s neck while he lay prone for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the last 2 minutes 53 seconds of which he had become unconscious. Two other officers were involved with the holding down of their handcuffed, unarmed victim despite his audible cries of “I can’t breathe”. A fourth officer kept bystanders, one of whom claimed first responder experience, away from the dying man, even as his nose reportedly began to bleed and he became unresponsive. The four, now former, officers have been charged with this heinous crime of second-degree murder. The recounting of the details of this gruesome event is an effort to not let anyone forget the inhumane treatment of this American at the hands of those who are tasked to “serve and protect”.
Since the killing of George Floyd, our country has seen daily street protests in all fifty states, by people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, we have seen businesses and properties damaged or destroyed, and more lives lost in the street violence that has flared up in the aftermath of this current example of long-standing fatal incidences between police and unarmed African American males. This rioting and looting are multifaceted in its motives. Some represents the cries of those who consider themselves voiceless, some is criminal opportunism, and some is the result of fringe groups throwing gasoline on this American experiment. Let us make it exceedingly clear that we do not condone the destruction of property, nor violence in the name of protest. Yet, we understand the legitimate frustration and grieve the losses. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” One would think that America has heard, or better stated, changed in the face of generations of unsatisfactory law enforcement encounters with the African American and poor communities.
The Cincinnati Medical Association represents the collective voice of African American physicians and the patients whom we serve. Our organization is devoted to protecting the health of people. We recognize that the mental and physical health of those whom we serve is dependent on racial justice. The affronts to the physical health of African American Is obvious in the three cases currently in the national limelight. Though George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are front and center currently, data (2013-2019) shows that black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites even though we are 1.3 times more likely to have been unarmed at the time of the encounter. From a mental health standpoint, a 2018 study from Harvard, Penn, and Boston U., published in the Lancet documents the mental health impact on African American because of the police shooting of unarmed Blacks. As mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles we don’t need a study to know the stress that our young males and females experience as we repeatedly give them “the talk” about what to do when they are disproportionately stopped by the police. We ourselves stress at being stopped, as well as wondering if our black boys, and girls, will return home every day. One might think there is good news knowing that many interactions are now videoed. Yet an additional stressor is the knowledge that the victims’ families all too often are compensated by civil settlements as opposed to police being convicted for what we all see with our own eyes.
Because we value our patients’ lives and health, we continue to advocate for police reform as well as healthcare, educational, housing, employment, small business, and implicit bias reform. These are the keys to fulfilling the dream of racial equality. George Floyd’s six-year old daughter, Gianna, gleefully proclaimed in memory of her father that “Daddy changed the world”. Cincinnati and America, we can make it so, if we unceasingly come to grips with racism being the other virus that continues to ravage our country!
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association