Black Lives Matter: San Diego in solidarity

Protestors stage a die-in in Balboa Park, San Diego. December 13, 2014. Photo by Andrew Mackay
Protestors stage a die-in in Balboa Park, San Diego.
December 13, 2014.
Photo by Andrew Mackay

Saturday afternoon brought a couple hundred activists together in San Diego, in solidarity with the much larger Millions March NYC, which had in 50-60,000 protestors in Manhattan. What has been happening is a crescendoing grassroots movement against police violence and racial injustice. The killing of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many others have stuck together and strengthened a social movement. It is encouraging to see people connecting these incidents into a broader realization: that the justice system in this country isn’t giving justice to communities of color.

The march was long, probably too long for those that aren’t cut out for extended walking. Turnout was good, larger than a similar event last week in a different part of downtown. I came in solidarity and part of Socialist Alternative– we ended up having eight members involved, which is a great showing given the newness and size of the San Diego operation. We provided water and distributed information about our public meeting in Ocean Beach on the 19th. It was exciting to see Stephane, a member who is also an immigrant from Belize and a Marine vet, asked to speak at the rally.

Stephane speaks to the rally in Balboa Park. December 13, 2014. Taken by Andrew Mackay
Stephane speaks to the rally in Balboa Park.
December 13, 2014.
Taken by Andrew Mackay

What was less exciting was a woman interrupting his speech repeatedly, which caused him to lose his place and ultimately not give the end of his planned remarks. That a black man speaking to a rally that says Black Lives Matter would get heckled, it was unbelievably rude and insulting. It was heartening to see many people, including other speakers, come to him later in the march and talk, and to sympathize. Staying united is vital, and it was good to see cross-group support.

Several die-ins occurred, including in front of a highway ramp (the Patrol were out in legion to make sure the march did not attempt to block the freeway) and on the trolley tracks in downtown. Community support was strong- most were at least curious if not interested or supportive. It shows the value of street protest- sometimes issues have to be brought in person to the population at large.

The most powerful image for me was this picture below. I missed it initially, and only saw it later when going over these pictures. In this mass die-in at an intersection that led to I-5, two men, one white and one black, hold hands high in unity. That is solidarity- standing together, and seeing the power that each of us can give to the movement- if we rise above ego and self-interest. This is a fight for black Americans to assert their rights and strength. Let them lead the way.

A die-in before an on-ramp to I-5. December 13, 2014. Photo by Andrew Mackay
A die-in before an on-ramp to I-5.
December 13, 2014.
Photo by Andrew Mackay

To the best of my ability: the need for political physicians

Yesterday, an unusual series of nationwide events were held on college campuses and in hospitals. Medical students marched in white coats and staged demonstrations against police violence. They staged die-ins in public areas. I was at the event at the University of California, San Diego, which was held in the highest-traffic area on campus. At the end, all in attendance raised their hand and recited the Hippocratic Oath (the modern version).

UC San Diego medical students recite the Hippocratic Oath. December 10, 2014.
UC San Diego medical students recite the Hippocratic Oath.
December 10, 2014.

It was quite an event. The events were planned well- public areas, the use of a distinctive symbol of medicine, and the use of the Oath as a unifying statement- all great, and less common than they should be. Medical students are not on the front lines of the social justice movement in the way law students or politicized undergraduates are. That is a shame, because medicine cannot be apolitical.

The reality of medicine is that world conflict and society place obstacles in front of doctors and aid workers. Certain populations and areas of the world face political oppression and in some cases genocide. If doctors accepted and only treated people where it was legal to do so, they would be condemning others. The Red Cross is a great institution of neutrality, but that sometimes their inaction can cause harm. Why do Doctors Without Borders exist? Because they thought the Red Cross were undermining the duty to heal by staying out of certain conflict zones. But to practice medicine without heed to borders means going outside the system. Whose lives are saved is at some level a political decision.

In the United States the political establishment has intruded on medicine. In Florida is now illegal for doctors to ask their patients about gun ownership, and whether that gun is safely stored. Guns are a major political issue, but they are also a major public health problem. Owners using a convenient gun to kill themselves, or the dozens of children shot and killed by other children who found an unsecured gun are something physicians have a clear duty to prevent. But they are being prevented from doing so in Florida, and many other states are considering similar laws.

With regards to abortion, physicians have been tied by unfair standards in their clinical practice, all to prevent them from performing a legal medical procedure. In states like Ohio, efforts are being made to restrict what doctors can talk about, what information they provide, and preventing doctors that perform abortion from providing sex education in schools. Laws are also attempting to provide anti-abortion doctors cover to lie to their patients, even though such conduct is grossly unprofessional.

Doctors are confronted with a healthcare system that is grossly inefficient and still very expensive. Their expertise has always been in conflict against insurance companies who will only pay for certain treatments and drugs, and stretched by patients who have no money to pay out-of-pocket. A dysfunctional system has led to incredible rates of infant mortality, obesity, and heart disease.

And why is the rate of infant mortality so high? One key part is the terrible poverty many kids are born into- the gap widens postnatal, not prenatal. Poverty is a public health crisis. There are diseases of the poor, and life expectancy drops dramatically based on race and income.

At the event, I saw a medical student with a sign stating “Homicide is a Public Health Issue”. Of course. Doctors must deal with the after-effects of crime, including violence by police officers on suspects. Physicians cannot heal those that the police kill, and unnecessary force is a danger, like smoking and not wearing a seat belt.

The health of a society is rooted in political decisions. Economic inequality due to tax breaks, black poverty caused by bad schools and unjust police action. Thousands and thousands of unsecured firearms that doctors in Florida can no longer ask about. Doctors are not the only experts being hemmed in and told how to do their jobs- mandatory minimum sentences have swelled prison populations while crime itself has gone down. Judges used to have wide discretion and take each criminal case as unique, but now laws have tied their hands. Not to idolize judges or doctors, but their education and experience is important, and shouldn’t callously be discarded by legislation.

Get onto the streets, medical students, residents, fellow, and fully specialized physicians! More of these events need to happen, the medical lobby is powerful but also conservative. The rank-in-file need to push for a healthier world, and that requires wading into politics. The American people sure need a new, clean bill of health.