At Saturday’s White Coats for Black Lives demonstration, speakers addressed the crowd and spoke on how the death of George Floyd had impacted them. Dr. Jasmine Zapata, a pediatrician and public health doctor, was the first to speak at the event and offered a powerful statement on Floyd’s murder.
“When George Floyd was on the ground, in his last moments of life, he cried out for his mom. When he cried out for his mom, every mom around the world heard him. When George Floyd was on the ground, begging for his life, no oxygen flowing to his brain, his neck compressed, he called out and said ‘I can’t breathe.’ When he did that, every healthcare professional around the nation heard him. And that is why we are here today. We didn’t make it there in time to save him. That’s what we’re trained for, to save people, but we didn’t make it in time for George Floyd. But that’s why we’re here today.”
As Dr. Zapata spoke, protesters raised homemade signs in support of her message. Many of the signs had the same message: “Racism is a public health crisis.”
Sharon-Rose Nartey, a medical student at UW-Madison and one of the organizers of the protest, says systemic racism extends to all facets of life.
“In a lot of minority communities we don’t have the access to healthy food and we’re often in food desserts,” Nartey says. “Or we don’t have access to the healthcare facilities that we need to, or access to primary care physicians. All of these things are compounded. Racism is a public health crisis.”
This issue has become even more pronounced in the past three months, says Nartey.
Black people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In Wisconsin, about seven percent of the population is Black. But according to state health officials, Black folks account for nearly a quarter of the state’s deaths from COVID-19 since March.
Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer of Wisconsin’s Bureau of Infectious Diseases, addressed Saturday’s protestors. He says that Wisconsin’s black residents are 450% more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to their white counterparts.
“The virus doesn’t see the color of our skin, it doesn’t know our immigration status. The virus is just an opportunist. It moves fastest through our communities that have the fewest resources or tools to protect against it,” Westergaard says.