Even after their long hospital shifts, medical professionals are taking to the streets to support the movement in any way they can.

By Faith Brar
Updated June 12, 2020
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Black Lives Matter protests are happening across the globe following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died after a white police officer pinned his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes, ignoring Floyd's repeated pleas for air.

Among the thousands of people taking to the streets to protest Floyd's death—as well as the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless more unjust deaths in the Black community—are nurses. Despite spending long, tireless hours risking their own health at the hospital caring for coronavirus (COVID-19) patients among others in need, many nurses and other healthcare workers are going straight from their shifts to the demonstrations. (Related: Why This Nurse-Turned-Model Joined the Frontline of the COVID-19 Pandemic)

On June 11, hundreds of hospital workers in California marched to San Francisco City Hall, where they then sat in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds—the amount of time the officer had his knee on Floyd's neck, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nurses at the City Hall protest spoke about the need for reforms not just in law enforcement, but also in healthcare. "We must demand equality in healthcare," said an unnamed speaker at the protest, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. "Nurses should be frontline workers in the fight for racial justice."

Nurses are doing more than just marching in the streets. A video on Twitter, posted by user Joshua Potash, shows several healthcare workers at a Minneapolis protest, equipped with supplies "to help treat people hit with tear gas and rubber bullets," Potash wrote in his tweet. Among the supplies were water bottles and gallons of milk, presumably to help those hit with pepper spray or tear gas during protests. "This is amazing," said Potash.

Of course, not all protests have grown violent. But when they have, healthcare workers have also found themselves in the line of fire while treating injured protesters.

In an interview with CBS News affiliate WCCO, a Minneapolis nurse said police stormed a medical tent and opened fire with rubber bullets while she was working to treat a man bleeding badly from a rubber bullet wound.

"I was trying to look at the wound and they were shooting at us," the nurse, who did not share her name, said in the video. The wounded man tried to protect her, she said, but eventually, she decided to leave. "I told him I wouldn't leave him, but I did. I feel so bad. They were shooting. I was scared," she recounted through tears. (Related: How Racism Affects Your Mental Health)

Other nurses have taken to social media to make people aware of groups that offer free medical help for those injured during protests.

"I am a licensed nurse with an organized group of frontline medics," tweeted one Los Angeles-based medical worker. "We are all healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, EMTs) and we provide safe spaces of first aid care for anyone who might have minor injuries related to police protest. We prioritize care for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) folks."

In addition to these selfless individual acts, the Minnesota Nurses Association—part of National Nurses United (NNU), the largest organization of registered nurses in the U.S.—issued a statement addressing Floyd's death and called for systemic reform.

"Nurses care for all patients, regardless of their gender, race, religion, or another status," reads the statement. "We expect the same from the police. Unfortunately, nurses continue to see the devastating effects of systematic racism and oppression targeting people of color in our communities. We demand justice for George Floyd and a stop to the unnecessary death of black men at the hands of those who should protect them." (Related: What It's Really Like to Be an Essential Worker In the U.S. During the Coronavirus Pandemic)

Of course, Floyd's death is one of many horrific displays of racism that demonstrators have been protesting for decades—and healthcare professionals have had a history of supporting these protests through both medical care and activism. During the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, for example, a group of healthcare volunteers organized to create the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) specifically to provide first-aid services for injured protesters.

More recently, in 2016, Pennsylvania nurse Ieshia Evans made headlines for silently confronting police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest following the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. An iconic photo of Evans shows her standing stoically in front of heavily armed officers approaching to detain her.

"I just—I needed to see them. I needed to see the officers," Evans told CBS in an interview at the time. "I'm human. I'm a woman. I'm a mom. I'm a nurse. I could be your nurse. I could be taking care of you. You know? Our children could be friends. We all matter. We don't have to beg to matter. We do matter."

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