Commentary

George Floyd, race, and psychiatry: How to talk to patients


 

And then I’m witnessing what happened, watching that video and thinking about all the interventions we’ve already tried. We tried body cameras, and the dude was wearing a body camera. We tried to get our police officers to be engaged, to try to check their roles, but people were there, witnessing everything, and nothing happened. An upstander was there, a white upstander, a firefighter who was telling them to check his pulse. Still nothing happened; it didn’t stop them.

I believe the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis makes it a whole lot more painful for me and many others. I am part of a black physician email group and it’s been triggering for all of us because we all imagine that this could be me one day, especially when you think about the Amy Coopers of the world, among other things.

Dr. Norris: I completely agree. We’re dealing with loss of life due to a virus, including, [personally speaking] that of my departed grandmother Why am I bringing this up? I bring it up because, regardless of one’s socioeconomic strata or title or whatnot, particularly in the black community, this is the kind of mess we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with the stress of COVID-19 that is disproportionately affecting African Americans. We’re dealing with social isolation, we’re dealing with the economic recession and the collapse that everyone else is dealing with, and on top of that we are now dealing with another murder. But this particular murder resonates very differently because, as you said, it seemed like every single thing that could have been done was done.

You will read reports that Mr. Floyd was resisting arrest. But you look at this video; this is not a man resisting arrest. This is a man trying to say, please, you are killing me. These are other people saying the same thing. These are police officers not acting right. This is so many different things going on, and when you hear this and look at this video, you can come to no other conclusion than it is murder.

As psychiatrists, we frequently have to restrain people, and it is always understood that restraint can turn into assault extremely quickly. But in this particular case, there was no thought or concern about this man’s life or his health. There are many good police officers that do think of that, and so this was shocking. It was jarring. It was another thing piled on an already taxed black America. I was talking with my black male colleagues about this, and I think a lot of people don’t actually realize that, while there are black male psychiatrists, there are only a few of us.

Dr. Newsome: True that.

Dr. Norris: There are only so many black male physicians, period, and black male psychiatrists in particular. At different points in time we are called on to take leadership roles, and to talk, to speak on things and be a voice. Well, I have to tell you, after a while, this is pretty goddamn tiring for us to contain our disappointment, our anger, and our rage and still stay hopeful, optimistic, and still be a voice for those who are not able to speak.

Dr. Newsome: I agree that sometimes it can be tiring to have to take leadership roles and continue to talk about all these things, but I also feel that, at least for me, it gives me some sort of route to address the angst and do something with it. I believe all of us are just figuring out how to deal with these feelings that we shouldn’t have to feel because of a murder that was televised.

Dr. Norris: Thank you. For a murder that was televised; that was tweeted; that was broadbanded; that was streamed.

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