A nurse’s perspective on police brutality

We must treat racism as a public health crisis

THE CONVICTION OF Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd Jr. was a wakeup call and a vindication for the nation on a small level. Yet, as a professional in the health care sector, I see clearly that much more needs to be done, especially as it relates to health care, racial trauma, racism, and improper policing.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act now before Congress is only a start. This bill would:

  • Lower the criminal intent standard – from willful to knowing or reckless – to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution.
  • Limit qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer, and
  • Grant administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice in pattern-or-practice investigations.

If this bill is enacted into law, it will limit and prevent racial profiling by law enforcement and will create uniform national accreditation standards.

Racism is a public health crisis that can lead to trauma or even death. Nurses are paramount to the education of eradicating racism and how it can lead to poor outcomes, whether the result of a pandemic or police brutality. Racism is a health crisis that requires ongoing research, policy reforms, and repair. Racism must be eradicated with the same zest to eradicate a pandemic or any disease processes.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 is one of the most important bills in the US history related to police brutality and accountability. It is a start to addressing racism and trauma. It hits on the core of social determinants of what it is like to be black in America. Police officers who have been found to violate the police department’s policies and protocols must be held accountable.

There must be law and order in a world of complexity. However, to be black in America is to be constantly at risk of atrocities committed by police in the name of law and order. To be black in America is to not be safe even in your bed, as evidenced by the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

The emotional trauma of being black in America is exhausting. It is comparable to being the target of an ongoing immoral war. To have an interaction with a police officer if black puts a feeling of impending doom upon you. The emotional and mental trauma leaves one wondering if you will be dead, alive, or severely brutalized.

There is no competency test that would provide complete protection from racist police, but reforms must be adopted to prevent the deaths of blacks and other diverse populations and the mental trauma associated with how blacks interact with law enforcement across the nation. Among them, police officers must be subjected to:

  • A national standardized test ensuring they understand how to provide for the physical safety of a person being placed under arrest. That includes training in how to deal with diverse populations.
  • Annual competencies evaluations that revisit the pervasiveness of systemic racism and stereotypes on an ongoing basis.

Police officers are charged with upholding the law. Their jobs are not to employ improper practices that give them autonomy to adjudicate the law in the streets. Police officers have performed their jobs with a flawed interpretation that they are above the law due to protected immunity. The system is broken.

Meet the Author
George Floyd stated over and over, “I can’t breathe.” He was not given the medical care he needed or the due legal process to which he was entitled. Being black, no matter one’s education or socioeconomic status, gives an uneasy feeling of what could happen in any encounter with the police. That is a scary reality that’s constantly lurking.

Tricia Thomas is a registered nurse in Massachusetts with over two decades of nursing, clinical management, pharmaceutical medical affairs, administration, and civic engagement background.