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Derek Chauvin conviction prompts HHS vow to tackle racism as a serious public health threat

Earlier this month, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky declared racism to be a serious public health threat.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

(Photo courtesy of Build Back Better)(Photo courtesy of Build Back Better)

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is among federal officials weighing in on the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

"We at the Department of Health and Human Services stand with marginalized communities to provide support and do our part to ensure that health and well-being are treated as a right and our systems are actively furthering justice," Becerra said. "We must meet the challenge to further justice and equity. At HHS, I will do everything I can to tackle racism as a serious public health threat that affects our mental and physical well-being."

Dr. Bruce Siegel, president and CEO of America's Essential Hospitals said, "Although we cannot change the tragic circumstances and avoidable outcome of Floyd's arrest, we can use this experience to advance the national conversation on overcoming systemic racism in all its forms – including in the health disparities and barriers to care that afflict people of color and other underrepresented groups."

WHY THIS MATTERS

Chauvin was convicted on all three counts against him in a case that galvanized protest not only from the Black Lives Matter movement but from citizens nationwide and worldwide.

This past year, the protest and racial inequalities brought more in focus by the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts, along with public policy and funding, has put the healthcare community on the front lines of ensuring equitable care for vulnerable populations.

The protests this past summer of Floyd's death under the knee of Chauvin is something that hasn't been seen since the civil rights protest of the 1960s. It's a protest that has unified people of every race and generation, President Joe Biden said after yesterday's conviction of Chauvin on all three counts. 

"It was a murder in full light of day," Biden said. "And it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see. The systemic racism – the vice president just referred to – systemic racism is a stain on our nation's soul."

Vice President Kamala Harris said America's "long history of systemic racism" was holding the country back and called on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. The bill has passed the House, but is not getting Republican support to ensure passage in the Senate. 

The bill addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. Chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants would be banned at the federal level, and at the state and local level, federal funding would be tied to the banning of chokeholds.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said, "The jury in the state trial of Derek Chauvin has fulfilled its civic duty and rendered a verdict convicting him on all counts. While the state's prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death. The Justice Department has previously announced a federal civil rights investigation into the death of George Floyd. This investigation is ongoing."

THE LARGER TREND

Earlier this month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky declared racism to be a serious public health threat.

"What we know is this: Racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans," Walensky said. "As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation."

Health systems and physicians have called for parity in the treatment of all individuals. Mass General Brigham and Johns Hopkins Medicine physicians said they want to end the elimination of harmful language such as the clinical diagnosis, "Red Man Syndrome." 

ON THE RECORD

Becerra said, "We cannot overlook the anxiety, stress, and trauma that reliving the last moments of a life wrongly taken forces on our communities. We all deserve to live in a world where we have peace of mind knowing that our brothers or sisters, daughters or sons will be safe when they leave the house."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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