Policy and Advocacy -

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The police brutality that caused George Floyd’s death has precipitated protests and unrest across the nation and in countries around the world, signifying that there must be change. Diverse groups are demonstrating in a unified voice that conditions faced by African Americans and other minorities can be tolerated no more. The paths of racism and racial injustice run from slavery, to Jim Crow, to legal segregation, to de facto segregation, to institutionalized racism, to over-incarceration, to the murders of so many in the post-lynching era – to name a few, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, at the brutal hands of representatives of the criminal justice system as well as ordinary citizens. This persistent pattern of victimizing people simply for being black in America has led to the outcry “Black Lives Matter.”

Centuries of oppression and racism rained upon African Americans has created a public health epidemic in largely segregated communities that is well documented, although often ignored. Substantial scientific evidence documents the astoundingly negative impact on the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals who are involved in, are witnesses to, and are victims of lifelong and generational violence, racism and injustice.

Community health centers in the District have long led the way for social change, demanding access for all citizens -- regardless of their race or ethnicity - to quality healthcare. As Congress passed legislation in 1965 creating community health centers, seeds were planted to demand better health outcomes for our communities and better access to health care. We know that structural racism and social injustice drive lower life expectancy, poorer health outcomes, chronic diseases and comorbidities, mental health episodes, and substance use disorders with detrimental impact on individual health and well-being.

George Floyd’s murder comes in the middle of a pandemic that has inflicted disproportionate harm on communities of color, especially the black community, because of deep underlying disparities in our society. COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on inequality in our economic, health care, and education systems. The reality is we must put all of our institutions under the microscope and very intentionally root out racial bias and discriminatory impact.

Sixty years ago, there were demonstrations in our communities led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, to address many of the same injustices that exist today.  Access to quality health care, elimination of police brutality, equal job opportunities, affordable housing and equal housing opportunities, access to quality educational opportunities, and eradication of poverty were among the leading demands for people of color at that time. We must address these same issues today.

As we watched Minneapolis mourn the loss of George Floyd at his memorial service Thursday, we must consider how we got here. The white police officer who looked at the camera as he kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds thought he would escape with impunity because he and so many others have not been held accountable before – the three officers who aided and abetted in the murder felt the same. They thought the criminal justice system would uphold their actions as it has repeatedly done historically. We must change that.

This is a moment that demands real action, real change, and real results – starting with changes in police practices and the systemic racism and institutional biases that have shielded those who engaged in abuse and misconduct while being shielded from accountability. We can begin by supporting organizations that have done the research to develop sound policies to address police violence, like Black Live Matter, My Brother’s Keeper and others. We can support policies that ban outright the use of chokeholds and use federal leverage to incentivize de-escalatory practices over escalatory ones. We need national standards backed up by real consequences for those who do not comply. In addition, we must establish a federal data bank that tracks reports of police misconduct – not only unjustified killings by police, but all forms of abuse and misconduct. We must abandon necropolitics and begin to protect all citizens of our country equally and justly.

DC Primary Care Association and our community health centers are committed to long-term action that will address social injustice, racism and health inequity. We will work in collaboration with our board, staff, community residents, health providers, government, and community partners to make change within our organizations, within communities and within our government.  

We are developing a series of short term and long-term actions that will be included in our operating plans and strategic plans. We are identifying local and national policies and legislation that we can support. This is a moment of inflection, an opportunity to align our values with our actions. It is a time to learn from the past and support the vision for the future. It is a time to evaluate our policies and practices, self-educate and collaborate. We must listen to voices of our communities and work together to bring about the change that is needed. We commit to realizing the right of every person to have a full and healthy life -- free from violence, fear and despair.  

The Board of Directors, Members and  Staff of the DC Primary Care Association

 
 

 

Tamara Smith, CEO, DC Primary Care Association

Don Blanchon, CEO Whitman Walker Health System, Board Chair, DC Primary Care Association

Kelly Sweeney McShane, CEO, Community of Hope, Vice Chair, DC Primary Care Association

Zeynep Orhan, Treasurer, DC Primary Care Association

Rhonique Shields, MD, Secretary, DC Primary Care Association

George Jones, CEO Bread for the City, Past Chair, DC Primary Care Association

Maria Gomez, CEO Mary’s Center, Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Vincent Keane, CEO Unity Health, Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Naseema Shafi, CEO Whitman Walker Health, Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Flora Hamilton, CEO Family and Medical Counseling, Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Catalina Sol, Executive Director, La Clinica del Pueblo, Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Marsha Lillie Blanton, PhD, Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Robert Berenson,, MD Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Tomi Ogundimu, Board Member, DC Primary Care Association

Miguel McInnis, CEO Metro Health, Member, DC Primary Care Association