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1,288 American Health Experts: Lockdown should not apply to anti-racism protests

The opening paragraph of this report from America’s National Public Radio (NPR), which is the closest thing the US has to RTE, has to be seen to be believed. Emphasis added:

Mass protests that have erupted over police brutality toward black people in America are raising concerns about the risk of spreading the coronavirus. But some health experts, even as they urge caution, said they support the demonstrations — because racism also poses a dire health threat.

Over a thousand (1288, to be precise) US public health experts – doctors, academics, and so on – have signed a letter on this very subject. You can read the full thing, and see the list of signatories, here. This is what they say:

As of May 30, we are witnessing continuing demonstrations in response to ongoing, pervasive, and lethal institutional racism set off by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many other Black lives taken by police. A public health response to these demonstrations is also warranted, but this message must be wholly different from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders. Infectious disease and public health narratives adjacent to demonstrations against racism must be consciously anti-racist, and infectious disease experts must be clear and consistent in prioritizing an anti-racist message.

White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19…..

However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States. We can show that support by facilitating safest protesting practices without detracting from demonstrators’ ability to gather and demand change. This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders. Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives.

Where do you start with that?

Doctors, first and foremost, are supposed to protect the health of the public. We are in the middle of a state-ordered economic shutdown that is unprecedented in modern times. It is a shutdown that has destroyed jobs and massively impacted on lives. It may take years to recover from.

The public has abided by those rules because we trust doctors, and medical experts, and because we believe collectively that the lives of the vulnerable are more important than the economy, or our own plans.

But we have done all this, and accepted it, only because we accept implicitly that the doctors calling for these measures have public health at heart, and not politics. That their only agenda is in defeating the Coronavirus.

Why should any American, or Irish person, for that matter, believe that now?

These 1,288 experts are explicitly saying that public health is, actually, less important to them than the political goal of supporting the present protests in the United States. The letter explicitly calls for different treatment for different protests – protests against the lockdown should be banned, they say, but protests against the police should be supported. In other words, they say, you should have different levels of basic human rights according to your political views, and the state should enforce this distinction.

The issue here is not a political one, since these medics do not set policy. It’s about something much more important – the credibility of medicine as a discipline, and the trustworthiness of medical experts.

The public – all of us – have abided by the instructions we have been given because we trust that they are provided with no agenda other than the saving of lives. When doctors and academics come out and say that actually, these restrictions do not apply to protestors we support, then it’s fair to ask why they should apply to anyone, or whether they were ever necessary to begin with.

What’s worse is the explicit contrast they draw with anti-lockdown protestors, because in those circumstances they are openly calling for their own expertise to be used as a tool to shut down ideas they oppose. It’s an open message to politicians and the public: We’re doctors, and we’re telling you to arrest these people, and give these other people a free pass.

The signatories to this letter have forfeited any right to be ever taken seriously as public health experts again. This is a document that should live in infamy, and which every other public health expert should condemn.



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