April 20, 2021
Dear School of Medicine Community,
There are so many names. So many names and so many lives ended by violence. So many lives ended by violence at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve; Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and so many others. As we await the jury deliberations in the death of George Floyd, we continue to witness the ongoing killing of Black and Brown men, women and children. Most recently, Adam Toledo, a thirteen year old Latino child, was shot and killed in an alley in Chicago by police as he stood with his hands raised, surrendering to police. At the same time, individuals of Asian descent live in fear of xenophobic violence related to being scapegoated for the coronavirus pandemic. Even if one is not a direct victim of violence, it is still difficult not to feel traumatized. The violence is epidemic and seems senseless. However, if one is familiar with the history of policing in this country, although the current situation is tragic and totally unacceptable, it does not seem senseless.
Modern policing has its roots in antebellum slave patrols which established state sanctioned violence. These patrols were abolished at the end of the civil war, but the legacy of oppressive policing without accountability continues, and can be seen currently in the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Amaud Arbery by neighborhood vigilantes. Being Black is still criminalized (e.g. national drug policy, laws such as “stop and frisk, discriminatory sentencing for non-violent crimes), and the violence continues.
Police violence (and over-policing in general) is a threat both to public and individual health with regard to the manner in which it perpetuates negative stereotypes of minority populations, disrupts the social fabric of communities, and traumatizes and damages the physical and mental health of individuals. There are individuals in our community here at UConn Health who are already traumatized; who are concerned for their own safety; who have made significant changes in their personal and professional lives to decrease the probability of encountering police in the conduct of their personal lives. If this is happening in the environment that we inhabit, imagine the level of fear and anxiety that exists in less privileged settings.
Many among us are traumatized and emotionally exhausted by the relentless onslaught of violence. The trial outcome, either the verdict and/or the subsequent reaction will deepen preexisting trauma. This is not happening in a vacuum as evidenced by the many police killings since George Floyd’s death. We must be ready to support each other, as we find a way to collectively move forward. As racism is a public health threat, collectively and individually we must be part of the solution to the problem. We must stand together and support each other in collective anti-racist action. Mahatma Ghandi challenged us to be the change we wish to see. Therefore, we invite you to a conversation that will proceed over the coming days and weeks as the response to the verdict unfolds. The conversation will be devoted to how, as a community, we may be able to confront racism as an existential threat, and move the anti-racist needle forward.
This may be a good occasion to remind us all that direct support is provided in a number of venues by the institution for the benefit of anyone in need, namely:
- The Employee Assistance Program (EAP https://health.uconn.edu/occupational-environmental/employee-assistance-program/); 860-679-2877
- Student Behavioral Health (https://health.uconn.edu/student-wellness/psychological-wellness/individual-counseling/), and
- The Ombuds Office (https://ombuds.uconn.edu/) 860-679-5061
- UConn Health Ombuds – Donna Douglass Williams
- Office of Multicultural & Community Affairs (OMCA@uchc.edu)
Bruce T. Liang, MD, FACC
Dean, School of Medicine
David Henderson, MD
Associate Dean, Multicultural and Community Affairs
Linda Barry, MD, MPH, FACS
Director, Multicultural and Community Affairs
Melissa Held, M.D.
Associate Dean, Medical Student Affairs