On Wednesday May 18th, members of UCSF’s Do No Harm Coalition and White Coats 4 Black Lives chapter interrupted the San Francisco Police Commission meeting with a simple request. As doctors, nurses, and students, we believe it is our ethical duty to stand up for the health of our patients and the communities in which we serve. We also feel a moral obligation to oppose policies and actions that are in violation of human rights.
It was in this spirit that we asked the Police Commission to respond to the demands of the community by putting the issue of police department leadership and accountability on the agenda. Community members had made this simple request at many previous meetings, only to have the commission ignore their demands or recess their meetings. Following in this pattern, instead of responding to our simple request, the president of the commission voted to adjourn the meeting early–despite dissent from one commissioner–and the commissioners left the building.
The following morning, on Thursday May 19th, an SFPD officer shot and killed Jessica Williams, a young African-American woman, in San Francisco’s Bayview district. Later that day, Greg Suhr was finally forced to resign after 22 police killings under his watch. In some senses, Suhr’s resignation was a victory, as a core community demand had finally being met; at the same time, as health care providers, we could not ignore the tragic cost of yet another human life. In that moment of conflicting joy and sorrow, we were reminded that this is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle.
San Francisco is facing the twin public health crises of institutionalized racism and police violence. As trainees and providers, we see how racism, discrimination, income inequality and displacement play out in the very real lives of our patients. When Jessica Williams was shot, she was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where all of us have trained and two of us will be practicing as physicians beginning this summer. Our profession charges us with the great responsibility of protecting human life; to us, the loss of Jessica Williams’ life, and others like hers, is not an abstract concept.
Beyond our professional duties, each of us feels the pain and suffering in San Francisco on a personal level. All three of us were born and raised in the Bay Area, two of us in San Francisco itself. We are committed to the health and well-being of the communities that helped raise us; we cannot stand idly by as these communities suffer trauma, violence, and hate inflicted by those charged to serve and protect them. While we each followed our own distinct path towards medicine, we share a unifying purpose–the belief that health does not begin or end at the walls of a hospital, and that it is our duty to create communities in which we can all live safe and healthy lives.
San Francisco’s twin afflictions were not cured with Suhr’s resignation. The Police Commission members have shown us that they are not accountable to the people of San Francisco, and the problems within the SFPD go far beyond the chief. It is time for all sectors of society to stand on the right side of history. We call on our colleagues–doctors, nurses, students and other health professionals–to join this movement to end systemic racism and impunity for police violence. We need to support real visions for how to make our communities safe and healthy for ALL.
Joshua Connor, MD, MPH, Olivia Park, MD candidate, and Yakira Teitel, MD, MPH are members of USCF’s Do No Harm Coalition