#WhiteCoats4BlackLives: Boston rally by New England physicians from Pakistan and India, joined by others

Last Sunday some physician friends in the Boston area invited me to help them organise a rally under the banner White Coats for Black Lives. These rallies began last Friday with synchronised standouts taking place at hospitals and medical institutions around the United States. This may be the first one taking place at a public venue.

Dr M. Sarwar, Jan 2007. Photo: Anwar Sen Roy

I found it exciting that Pakistani and Indian physicians are joining hands for a common cause, across the political divide. I’m glad to have been able to help them and glad to see doctors becoming politically active. Remembering my father Dr M. Sarwar who believed so passionately in equality and social justice. He not only wouldn’t charge workers, artists and journalists but also gave them medicines for free. He would have approved ❤️

The event has generated a lot of support (see list of endorsing organisations below).

I’m thrilled that Alicia Barrow, one of the co-organisers of a rally last weekend at South Royalton, VT, is coming down for the Sunday vigil in front of the Boston Public Library. South Royalton is a tiny, predominantly White town, but the rally for #BlackLivesMatter drew a substantial crowd. The demonstration was part of several others in Vermont that weekend – and in small towns around the USA. Read this account by veteran journalist friend Skip Isaacs: “A very small close-up from a very big picture”: a report on a Black Lives Matter protest in very white, very Republican, Pasadena, Maryland. Has the USA reached a tipping point?

Copying below the press release about the upcoming White Coats For Black Lives rally:

BOSTON: In solidarity with the movement for justice, peace and racial equality growing across the USA and internationally, the Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England (APPNE) and the Indian Medical Association of New England (IMANE) are holding a #WhiteCoats4BlackLives rally in Boston joined by the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA), Massachusetts Peace Action, Alliance for Secular and Democratic South Asia, the Boston Coalition, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Revolutionary United Front, Imamia Muslim Foundation, Boston Public Library Employees Union AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) Local 1526, Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), Aligarh Medical Alumni Association of North America (AMAANA), Hindus for Human Rights USA, and others.

The rally is planned for Sunday, 14 June, 4– 6pm in front of Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston Street, Boston. (Facebook event link)

“As a physician viewing the situation from the trenches, I have seen the racial disparity brought out by this pandemic,” says infectious disease specialist Dr Asimah Qayyum of Framingham who initiated the event.

“We have to think beyond ‘charity’ and ‘handouts’ to make systemic change,” says co-organizer Dr Salman Malik, an oral surgeon in New Hampshire.

Both physicians have lived in the USA for nearly three decades each and are American citizens. “We’re American first, Pakistani second,” says Dr Malik.

Physicians and health workers around the country have been converging under the White Coats for Black Lives banner at their hospitals and institutions. This may be the first such demonstration in a public place, with allies from human rights and racial justice groups.

Police kill an average of 1000 people annually in the USA, mostly with firearms but sometimes using no weapons. This year, police have already killed over 450 people even amidst the global coronavirus pandemic. The victims are disproportionately African American or Black.

Floyd’s death was “one event in a continuous system of oppression,” to quote the Rev. Graylan Hagler.

The perpetrators are rarely, if ever, punished. The legal doctrine of qualified immunity in United States federal law freezes the constitution, shielding police officers and other government officials from being sued.

Sunday’s #WhiteCoats4BlackLives rally expresses solidarity with allies around the country and around the world to end systemic racism at this pivotal moment.

WHITE COATS FOR BLACK LIVES

WhiteCoats4BlackLives is a medical student-run organization born out of the National White Coat Die-In demonstrations that took place on 10 December 2014

Vision: To safeguard the lives and well-being of our patients through the elimination of racism.

Mission Statement: To dismantle racism in medicine and promote the health, well-being, and self-determination of people of color.

Goals:

  1. Foster dialogue on racism as a public health concern.
    • Encourage physicians, physician organizations, and medical institutions to publicly recognize racism as a public health issue.
    • Promote medical students’ involvement in local and national movements to end racism and police brutality.
    • Advocate for the funding and promotion of research on the health effects of racism.
  2. End racial discrimination in medical care.
    • Demand that academic medical centers serve the healthcare needs of their local communities, particularly the needs of patients of color.
    • Promote the allocation of funding for interventions that dismantle racism in the delivery of medical care.
    • Ensure equal access to medical care by advocating for the establishment of a single-payer national health insurance program.
  3. Prepare future physicians to be advocates for racial justice.
    • Improve the recruitment and support of Black, Latinx, and Native American medical students.
    • Promote the recruitment, retention, and hiring of Black, Latinx, and Native American physicians in medical school teaching, research, and leadership positions.
    • Develop national medical school curricular standards that educate current and future medical professionals on the history and current manifestations of racism in medicine, principles of anti-racism, and strategies for dismantling structural racism. 

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