At its core, nursing is an inherently humanitarian career path: The job can’t be done without compassion and a willingness to advocate for patients, by any means necessary. As a nursing professional, you’re also likely to be unwittingly thrust into the political arena, treating both injured protesters and law enforcement officials following a violent clash.

And in recent years, U.S. nurses have treated their fair share of protestors, notably those who were standing up against police brutality and the killing of unarmed young Black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Throughout 2020, protesters in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere reported various forms of retaliation and crowd control used by police that run the gamut from flash grenades and rubber bullets to teargas.

Nursing Professionals on the Front Lines of Social Justice

As such, for modern nursing professionals, the lines between individual health care and politics often collide. Along with treating injured protestors at medical facilities and hospitals, many nursing professionals are volunteering their time on the front lines. In many cases, nurses at protests simply show their support to the cause.

But, if a nonviolent protest escalates into a dangerous situation, having a nursing professional on the scene is vital. You may be able to provide emergency care, of course, but even more importantly, nurses on the front lines of protests have a unique insight into police brutality. This sort of information is an invaluable tool for fueling the conversation about systemic racism in the health care industry as well as everyday life.

So, once you’re aware of the current landscape of protests and the tactics used by police, however, what will your next steps be? There are various ways that you can get involved and take a stand against police violence, on both a professional and social level. Here’s what you need to know about the consequences of police violence and how you can help protesters, no matter if you’re on the front lines or working in the ER.

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Racism, Police Brutality, and Public Health

The COVID-19 pandemic had already altered daily life around the world long before May 25, 2020. That night, George Floyd lost his life in the hands of law enforcement officials, and U.S. citizens flooded city streets in response. These widespread protests didn’t dissipate overnight — in fact, they only grew larger, and the violence that escalated in several cities left health care workers in a dire situation.

Already under the threat of the pandemic, nurses from all walks of life suddenly found themselves working to balance public health considerations with the reality of police violence.  As a patient advocate in these politically charged times, you should thus be aware of the unique needs of your patients. Victims of police violence and brutality, for example, may fear for their safety.

Discretion is a key factor in situations involving institutional racism and police brutality. Further, the provider-patient confidentiality agreement is especially vital if a protestor in your care wishes to pursue legal action against a law enforcement official or organization.

Patient Privacy in the Modern Health Care Landscape

Privacy is an important consideration in 2021, as so much of our everyday lives can be easily found on the internet. Protesters further put themselves on display, and the plethora of camera phones, as well as professional cameras wielded by the media, make anonymity nearly impossible. If you participate in a protest, whether as a curious observer, an active participant, or in a care-related capacity, it should be expected that your image will be captured on camera.

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For example, even masks and costumes couldn’t hide the identities of countless right-wing protestors who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Thanks to the internet and social media, identifying the Capitol rioters was a simple endeavor. While this sort of facial recognition may represent a slippery slope scenario, at least where personal privacy is concerned, the tech proved crucial to holding the rioters responsible.

In the age of telehealth, patients should be afforded more privacy considerations than the protesters, yet various challenges exist when it comes to protecting patient information. To ensure that you’re properly adhering to patient privacy laws, as well as protecting vulnerable patients such as victims of police violence, you must take every possible precaution when collecting, accessing, and storing patient data. You may also want to stay up-to-date on relevant laws and HIPAA regulations, which can change without warning.

There’s No Place for Violence in a Caring Society

As long as police violence remains prevalent, the minority nurses of the future are likely to face unprecedented challenges while on the job. Whether you find yourself in a position of mentor or you’re working directly with patients injured during a protest, your voice is powerful. In the wake of a global pandemic and continued racial disparity, nurses may be inspired to stand up for their patients and actively address police violence, for the sake of both public health and social justice.

Sam Bowman
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