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Fighting COVID And Police Brutality, Medical Teams Take To Streets To Treat Protesters

This story additionally ran on NPR. This story will be republished at no cost (details).

DENVER — Amid clouds of choking tear fuel, booming flash-bang grenades and different different “riot control agents,” volunteer medics plunged into avenue protests over the previous weeks to assist the injured — typically speeding to the entrance strains as quickly as their hospital shifts ended.

Known as “street medics,” these unorthodox groups of nursing college students, veterinarians, docs, trauma surgeons, safety guards, ski patrollers, nurses, wilderness EMTs and off-the-clock ambulance staff poured water — not milk — into the eyes of tear-gassed protesters. They stanched bleeding wounds and plucked disoriented youngsters from clouds of fuel, coming into harmful corners the place on-duty emergency well being responders could worry to go.

Many are medical professionals who see parallels between the entrance strains of COVID-19, the place they confront stark racial imbalances amongst these affected by the coronavirus, and what they see as racialized police brutality.

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So donning fabric masks to guard in opposition to the virus — plus helmets, makeshift shields and different gear to protect in opposition to rubber bullets, projectiles and tear fuel — the volunteer medics organized themselves into an internet of first responders to take care of individuals on the streets. They confirmed up early, arrange first-aid stations, established transportation networks and lined their arms, helmets and backpacks with crosses manufactured from purple duct tape, to indicate that they have been medics. Some stayed late into the night time previous curfews till each protester had left.

Iris Butler, a 21-year-old licensed nursing assistant who works in a nursing residence, determined to supply her abilities after seeing a person injured by a rubber bullet on her first night time on the Denver protests. She confirmed up as a medic each night time thereafter. She didn’t see it as a selection.

“I am working full time and basically being at the protest after getting straight off of work,” stated Butler, who’s black. That’s tiring, she added, however so is being a black lady in America.

Iris Butler (left), a licensed nursing assistant, stands with two different avenue medics she labored with throughout a protest on June 1, in Denver. She says she met the 2, who declined to present their names, a couple of days earlier whereas tending to injured protesters.(LJ Dawson for KHN)

After going out as a medic on her personal, she quickly met different volunteers. Together they used text-message chains to arrange their efforts. One night time, she responded to a person who had been shot with a rubber bullet within the chest; she stated his torso had turned blue and purple from the influence. She additionally supplied assist after a taking pictures close to the protest left somebody in crucial situation.

“It’s hard, but bills need to be paid and justice needs to be served,” she stated.

The avenue medic motion traces its roots, partially, to the 1960s protests, in addition to the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party. Denver Action Medic Network presents a 20-hour coaching course that prepares them to deal with sufferers in conflicts with police and enormous crowds; a four-hour session is obtainable to medical professionals as “bridge” coaching.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, the Denver Action Medic Network has added new coaching pointers: Don’t go to protests if sick or involved with those that are contaminated; put on a masks; give individuals a lot of house and use hand sanitizer. Jordan Garcia, a 39-year-old medic for over 20 years who works with the community of veteran avenue medics, stated in addition they warn medics concerning the elevated threat of transmission resulting from protesters coughing from tear fuel, and urge them to get examined for the virus after the protests.

The variety of volunteer medics swelled after George Floyd’s May 25 killing in Minneapolis. In Denver alone, not less than 40 individuals reached out to the Denver Action Medic Network for coaching.

On June three, Dr. Rupa Marya, an affiliate professor of drugs on the University of California-San Francisco and the co-founder of the Do No Harm Coalition, which runs avenue medic coaching within the Bay Area, hosted a nationwide webinar attended by over three,000 medical professionals to offer the bridge coaching to be a avenue medic. In her on-line bio, Marya describes the coalition as “an organization of over 450 health workers committed to structural change” in addressing well being issues.

“When we see suffering, that’s where we go,” Marya stated. “And right now that suffering is happening on the streets.”

A desk is stuffed with provides for injured protesters at an house complicated that grew to become the central command for Denver’s avenue medics on June 1.(LJ Dawson for KHN)

In the latest Denver protests, avenue medics responded to main head, face and eye accidents amongst protesters from what are typically described as “kinetic impact projectiles” or “less-than-lethal” bullets shot at protesters, together with tear-gas and flash-bang stun grenade canisters that both hit them or exploded of their faces.

Garcia, who by day works for an immigrant rights nonprofit, stated that these weapons are not designed to be shot directly at people.

“We’re seeing police use these less-lethal weapons in lethal ways, and that is pretty upsetting,” Garcia stated concerning the latest protests.

Denver police Chief Paul Pazen promised to make changes, together with banning chokeholds and requiring SWAT groups to activate their physique cameras. Last week, a federal judge also issued a temporary injunction to cease Denver police from utilizing tear fuel and different less-than-lethal weapons in response to a category motion lawsuit, through which a medic acknowledged he was shot a number of instances by police with pepper balls whereas treating sufferers. (Last week in North Carolina police have been recorded destroying medic stations.)

Denver avenue medic Kevin Connell, a 30-year-old emergency room nurse, stated he was hit with pepper balls behind his medic vest — which was clearly marked by purple crosses — whereas treating a affected person. He confirmed as much as the Denver protests each night time he didn’t should work, he stated, carrying a Kevlar medic vest, protecting goggles and a selfmade fuel masks long-established from a water bottle. As a member of the Denver Action Medic Network, Connell additionally served on the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota in a dispute over the constructing of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Aj Mossman prepares to exit as a avenue medic at a protest in Denver on June 1. Mossman, a Denver EMT learning for nursing college, was shocked to be tear-gassed and struck behind the leg with a flash grenade whereas treating a protester on May 30.(LJ Dawson for KHN)

“I mean, as bad as it sounds, it was only tear gas, pepper balls and rubber bullets that were being fired on us,” Connell stated of his latest expertise in Denver. “When I was at Standing Rock, they were using high-powered water hoses even when it was, like, freezing cold. … So I think the police here had a little bit more restraint.”

Still, first-time avenue medic Aj Mossman, a 31-year-old Denver emergency medical technician learning for nursing college, was shocked to be tear-gassed and struck behind the leg with a flash grenade whereas treating a protester on May 30. Mossman nonetheless has a big leg bruise.

The following night time, Mossman, who makes use of the pronoun they, introduced extra protecting gear, however stated they’re nonetheless having problem processing what felt like a warfare zone.

“I thought I understood what my black friends went through. I thought I understood what the black community went through,” stated Mossman, who’s white. “But I had absolutely no idea how violent the police were and how little they cared about who they hurt.”

For Butler, serving as a medic with others from numerous walks of life was inspiring. “They’re also out there to protect black and brown bodies. And that’s amazing,” she stated. “That’s just a beautiful sight.”

LJ Dawson: @LJDawson0

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