Medical Students Stage 'Die-In' to Protest Police Violence

Kathleen Louden

December 11, 2015

Approximately 75 white-coated medical students and healthcare providers lay on the ground in Chicago yesterday morning in a 16-minute "die-in" to protest what they called a public health crisis of police violence that affects many of their patients.

Each minute of the silent protest, according to event organizers, symbolized one of the 16 bullets fired at Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old male black killed by a white Chicago police officer in October 2014.

Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder for the teenager's death last month after a court ordered the Chicago police department to release a dash-cam video of the incident. The video showed multiple gunshots at McDonald after he walked away from pursuing officers, allegedly armed with only a knife.

The video and public allegations of a cover-up by police and government officials have sparked large marches in the city protesting law enforcement's use of excessive force. Moreover, the US Justice Department has launched a federal investigation of the Chicago police department.

Citing a lack of accountability by city leaders in the killing, members of various medical student groups and other health professionals staged the die-in at Chicago's Daley Plaza in front of City Hall and called for the resignation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Our white coats give us authority to speak out on behalf of our patients.

"Our white coats give us authority to speak out on behalf of our patients. Many of our patients deal with police brutality and the stress of living in that environment," event coorganizer Scott Goldberg, a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, told Medscape Medical News.

Multiple Organizations Participated

Joining in the protest were medical students from Chicago chapters of the American Medical Student Association, Latino Medical Student Association, Student National Medical Association, Students for a National Health Program, and White Coats for Black Lives. Local nursing students, residents, and other physicians also participated in the event, coorganizer, Madeleine Boesche, a first-year student at Rush Medical College, Chicago, Illinois, told Medscape Medical News.

Medical students protest police violence in front of Chicago City Hall. Photo courtesy of Anthony Parish, Rush Medical College.

During a rally before the die-in, the protestors chanted, "Sixteen shots and a cover-up. No more!"

Goldberg said frequent excessive police force is a public health problem, as well as a human rights issue, because it disproportionately affects people of color — predominantly young black men — and can affect their health.

In Chicago, blacks are 10 times more likely than whites to be shot by a police officer, a 2014 analysis by the Chicago Reporter found.

Chicago medical students are likely to encounter patients who have been victims of police violence and illegal searches, Goldberg said, because many Chicago teaching hospitals treat poor minority patients. However, he noted that the problem also is occurring in other cities.

Boesche said that she participated in the protest as a show of solidarity with her patients.

"I've seen a lot of patients who are directly and indirectly affected by trauma because of police brutality and witnessing shootings in the community," she said.

Boesche believes that the anger stemming from such social injustice and victimization can lead to other types of violence, including domestic abuse.

Police officers killing people without justification should not be a violence our patients face.

"As future physicians, we can't stop all violence," Boesche said. "But police officers killing people without justification should not be a violence our patients face."

She said it is important for medical students and physicians, who pledge to "first do no harm," to protest against such harmful actions.

Goldberg called for Chicago to collect and study data on the incidence of police violence and propose interventions to reform illegal police practices.

He said it is especially troubling to him as a Chicago resident that the media have reported an allegedly apparent obstruction of justice in McDonald's death, including the long delay in publicly releasing the video and in bringing charges against Van Dyke, and the mayor's failure to fire the city police superintendent until after citywide outrage. As a result, Goldberg said Mayor Emanuel has lost the public trust and should resign.

Related Events

Emanuel apologized on Wednesday for the failures of the city's police department and oversight agencies in handling the case and promised to reform the system, the Chicago Tribune reported.

In a separate event from the Chicago students' die-in, White Coats for Black Lives sponsored protests at medical schools across the country the same day, to call for addressing racial inequalities in health care and medical education, during its #ActionsSpeakLouder event.

White Coats for Black Lives organizer Dorothy Charles told Medscape Medical News that their movement supported the Chicago event because it protested racial injustice.


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