It was my patient’s mother who first told me the news.
A Black man with mental health issues was being paraded through the center of Galveston Texas on a rope between two horses – the image echoed historical photos from slave history of the United States… Except it happened in August 2019.
My first reaction was “Wait, is this real news?”
“No,” she insisted, “it is all over the news media in Central America. My friend in El Salvador just sent it to me.”
She was correct. A quick Google search revealed a grossly disturbing image. On August 7, 2019, a man with mental health issues was detained by mounted police. He was transported through Galveston, Texas on a rope-like “leash.” Surely the cruel and inhumane treatment of the detained man by police officers must have raised red flags for the officers involved. How could it not have invoked racialized imagery for them, harkening back to chattel slavery and lynchings? Blaming “poor judgment” for this choice seems like one more cheap excuse for overt acts of personal violence and institutional racism against a Black man with mental health issues. Would the officers have detained a white man with mental health issues in this way?
In a week marked by mass shootings – one that explicitly was targeting Mexican people – and an ICE raid of a chicken factory in Mississippi that targeted and detained up to 650 immigrant workers on the day their children started school, we had reached another racist nadir. But yes, there it was. I told my patient’s mother that I shared her anger and disbelief.
Galveston Police reported that there were no available vehicles to transport the disorderly man. Why did they not call 911 and request an ambulance? If the town’s ambulances were busy then why did they not call a neighboring town to request help for transport?
This is an outrageous act of cruelty and leaves me with one persistent thought: How can we stop this racism? What can we do, as nurses and citizens of this country?
This must stop.
Can we call the ACLU? Should we call International Human Rights groups? I can call my federal representatives and demand an inquiry and justice for this patient with mental health issues, who needs healthcare, not to be treated like an animal. Where are the protests of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association?
I want to scream from the rooftops. I want to put more signs in my front yard. I want to leave my job and become a full-time activist. I want to be in the street, calling out “this must stop.” My three federal representative’s offices and professional nurses’ organization are closed, but on Monday I will call them again and demand that protest and an inquiry be conducted into this outrageous act of violence and racism against a mental health patient. But I am just one person; one nurse’s voice calling from Massachusetts to say this we must do something. Will you join me? Please do, because this racism must stop. Critics may say that statement is too naïve? Stop racism? Yes, stop racism is the goal, and the first step is to call it out.
Educate yourself about white supremacy and institutional racism and unequal treatment of Black people in our society. You could start with Medical Apartheid, a text on the history of medical experimentation on Black Americans throughout American history. The citation is below. Get it. Read it. Understand it. Undo it.
Call your professional organizations. Let them know your concerns about systemic and structural racism in our country. Let them know that racism has an impact on the health and wellbeing of our communities. It is up to us to advocate for the folx that need it – this is not a test. Now is the time.
This, of course, is not a novel observation or something new. We recognize those scholars and activists and families who have been doing this work long before us, in particular, those Black activists and activists of color. We are not saying anything that they have not said more effectively before. What we are doing is calling you (yes you) to action, today. As a nurse. Use the links below to leverage your power, because, as Monica McLemore, a nurse hero in these parts, insists “to believe that activism is separate from the core tenets of nursing and public health is to be both inaccurate and ahistorical.” Use your powers for good.
Contact the American Nurses Association here.
Contact the American Medical Association here.
Contact the National League of Nurses here.
Contact Sigma Theta Tau here. And while you are at it, encourage them to reconsider the location of their 2020 International Research Congress, which is planned for UAE, a place with a record of overt hostility to LGBTQ people, including under civil law with the threat of death penalty.
Look here to contact your legislators. Call. Every day. Let’s bring change.
Washington, H. A. (2006). Medical apartheid: The dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from colonial times to the present. Doubleday Books.
Jane Hopkins Walsh is a Spanish speaking pediatric nurse practitioner at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is also Ph.D. student and Jonas-Blaustein Scholar at Boston College. At Boston College, she is also enrolled in a certificate program at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at the Lynch School of Education.
Jane is a volunteer and board member for the longest-serving NGO in Honduras called Cape CARES (www.capecares.org). Jane is passionate about social justice and immigrant rights and volunteers for Project Reunify (www.reunify.org), the Dilley Pro Bono Project (https://www.immigrationjustice.us/volunteeropportunities/dilley-pro-bono-project) and The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (www.centerforhumanrights.org).