Even after their long hospital shifts, medical professionals are taking to the streets to treat protestors hit with rubber bullets or accosted with tear gas.

By Faith Brar
June 01, 2020

#BlackLivesMatter protests are happening across America following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died after a white police officer pinned his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes, ignoring Floyd's repeated pleas for air.

As people take to the streets to protest Floyd's death—as well as countless more unjust deaths in communities of color, both in recent months and throughout history—medical workers are doing their part to support protesters. Despite spending long, tireless hours risking their own health at the hospital caring for coronavirus (COVID-19) patients among others in need, nurses are going straight from their shifts to the demonstrations to help protesters who've been injured.

A video on Twitter, posted by user Joshua Potash, shows several healthcare workers at a Minneapolis protest, equipped with supplies "to help treat people hit with tear gas and rubber bullets," Potash wrote in his tweet. Among the supplies were water bottles and gallons of milk, presumably to help those hit with pepper spray or tear gas during protests. "This is amazing," said Potash.

Of course, not all protests have grown violent. But when they have, healthcare workers have also found themselves in the line of fire while treating injured protesters.

In an interview with CBS News affiliate WCCO, a Minneapolis nurse said police stormed a medical tent and opened fire with rubber bullets while she was working to treat a man bleeding badly from a rubber bullet wound.

"I was trying to look at the wound and they were shooting at us," the nurse, who did not share her name, said in the video. The wounded man tried to protect her, she said, but eventually, she decided to leave. "I told him I wouldn't leave him, but I did. I feel so bad. They were shooting. I was scared," she recounted through tears.

Other nurses have taken to social media to make people aware of groups that offer free medical help for those injured during protests.

"I am a licensed nurse with an organized group of frontline medics," tweeted one Los Angeles-based medical worker. "We are all healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, EMTs) and we provide safe spaces of first aid care for anyone who might have minor injuries related to police protest. We prioritize care for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) folks."

In addition to these selfless individual acts, the Minnesota Nurses Association—part of National Nurses United (NNU), the largest organization of registered nurses in the U.S.—issued a statement addressing Floyd's death and called for systemic reform.

"Nurses care for all patients, regardless of their gender, race, religion, or another status," reads the statement. "We expect the same from the police. Unfortunately, nurses continue to see the devastating effects of systematic racism and oppression targeting people of color in our communities. We demand justice for George Floyd and a stop to the unnecessary death of black men at the hands of those who should protect them."

Of course, Floyd's death is one of many horrific displays of racism that demonstrators have been protesting for decades—and healthcare professionals have had a history of supporting these protests through both medical care and activism. During the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, for example, a group of healthcare volunteers organized to create the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) specifically to provide first-aid services for injured protesters.

More recently, in 2016, Pennsylvania nurse Ieshia Evans made headlines for silently confronting police officers during a #BlackLivesMatter protest following the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. An iconic photo of Evans shows her standing stoically in front of heavily armed officers approaching to detain her.

"I just—I needed to see them. I needed to see the officers," Evans told CBS in an interview at the time. "I'm human. I'm a woman. I'm a mom. I'm a nurse. I could be your nurse. I could be taking care of you. You know? Our children could be friends. We all matter. We don't have to beg to matter. We do matter."

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