In the wake of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile’s untimely deaths at the hands of police, there is renewed focus on how we might remake our society into one which upholds and affirms the value of Black Lives. As healthcare providers, life’s value is not an abstraction, but a concrete goal toward which we strive every day. Every therapy we prescribe or perform is rooted in the value of life and our mission to preserve and prolong it.
Because of this, there is currently a lively discourse amongst physicians and other healthcare professionals about how we might respond to this epidemic of violence. I’m collecting some of these approaches in this post mostly in order to organize my thoughts, but I also want them to be available to anyone who is looking for a way to take action against the systemic racism which leads those who are labeled Black in this country to have a greater burden of illness.
If you have anything that you think I should add to this list, please let me know! Specifically, I want to know of any groups or individuals which are helping organize people around specific interventions.
Change begins with you, right? A Letter to Our Patients on Racism is a great statement on how medical providers can meaningfully commit to anti-racism. While you’re at it, here are some great reading lists to better inform yourself of the causes and consequences of racism in American society:
- The July Syllabus—what to read (and do) after Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Dallas
- A huge list of readings and people to follow on social media
If you have privilege, be an ally to those without it
At some point, I will pick and choose from these lists to make a shorter more manageable doc, but for now here are some resources that I frequently draw upon.
- A guide for white allies confronting racial injustice
- Accountability resource list
- How to be an ally if you’re a person with privilege
- Ally toolkit
Speak to your friends, family, and coworkers
Discussing race is difficult, but important. Here are some tips to make the conversation productive.
- Connect before you correct. Always start the conversation by centering on your connection with the person and acknowledgement of their good qualities. At the very least, most people have good intentions.
- Spend more time listening than speaking. Monologues do not change minds. Spend time early in the conversation coming to understand not only what a person’s beliefs are, but what experiences they’ve had that have informed those beliefs.
- Respond to the person, not to the straw man. When listening to someone, consider the most generous interpretation of their words and respond to that.
- Do not try to “win” the conversation. The purpose of this conversation is not to embarrass the other person or force them to admit they are racist. It’s to come to a better understanding of each other’s points of view. If you are approaching the conversation with malice, you better believe that the other person is going to shut down.
Law Enforcement Interventions
Advocate for comprehensive police reform
- Summary: No single intervention is going to fix all the problems with our current law enforcement system, however, Campaign Zero has put together a thoughtful list of reforms which when taken together promote and more just and peaceful society.
- What you can do: Read over their reform proposals and then use the Take Action Tool on their website to speak with your local representatives about the laws being considered in your state or to advocate for the reforms you feel most passionate about. If you’re feeling generous, you should donate here!
Promote police implicit bias training
- Summary: This is the approach that Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform is advocating. One group that provides this training, Fair and Impartial Policing, puts together a compelling argument for implicit bias training here. The Department of Justice recently announced mandatory implicit bias training for their federal employees, but there is not yet a mechanism to promote this training on more local levels.
- What you can do: Sign the Physicians For Criminal Justice Reform petition to make federal funds available for police implicit bias training. You can also contact your city council person and advocate for implicit bias training for the police in your own city.
Promote Crisis Intervention Teams
- Summary: Crisis Intervention Teams are focused on safely and appropriately responding to people experiencing a mental health crisis without resorting to violence. While not directly addressing the issue of racism in policing, it is a reform effort to making law enforcement more humane and community-oriented.
- What you can do: The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a page dedicated to how you can help establish a Crisis Intervention Team in your city. As before you can also contact your city council person and advocate for this intervention.
Make law enforcement-related deaths a notifiable condition
- Summary: By mandating reporting of these deaths, researchers will be able to gather more accurate public health data about patterns in this type of violence. Dr. Nancy Krieger has been the most vocal advocate of this approach and you can read her full argument in PLoS Medicine (Open Access).
- What you can do: I’m not aware of any formal organizing around this issue, but you can contact the APHA or your medical society and advocate for this approach.
Commit to and promote the practice of trauma-informed care
- Summary: Patients that have been traumatized by police violence, repeated racist encounters, or other events are often at higher risk of illness. Trauma-informed care is a practice of acknowledging past traumas and helping patients heal while avoiding re-traumatizing them.
- What you can do: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has some great resources here, but to really engage you will likely have to seek out local training for your physician group.
Ensure hospital staff is trained in de-escalation strategies
- Summary: The recent shooting of Alan Pean while he was hospitalized for a manic episode brought national attention to hospital security staff that is often unprepared to safely manage agitated patients.
- What you can do: Find out what policies your hospital has for managing agitated patients and if they haven’t instituted de-escalation training for security personnel, advocate for it.
Physician-Activist Groups To Join or Follow