National and world news covered hourly developments in the Derek Chauvin trial as the public prayed for justice.
But as a nurse I have been trained to see people and situations from a wider lens. Sometimes my patient is the shooter, and other times, the victim. From the emergency department to the prison, nurses treat the same patient every day: humanity.
We put an individual on trial because it is easier than taking responsibility as a society for the forces that shaped the actions of both George Floyd and Derek Chauvin. It’s cleaner. After the verdict, there will be a shared sense of closure. We know who to blame, and we will make them pay. Then we’ll act surprised when it happens again.
Both men were shaped by the culture of the communities that surrounded them, including TV, schools, social and digital media, politics, and religion. I have lots of questions. What were the influences that de-sensitized Derek Chauvin to seeing into the eyes or hearing the pleas of a fellow human being? How did we fail along the way to recognize and support the physical, emotional, and mental health needs of George Floyd? But by focusing on one person, we don’t have to ask, or answer, any of these questions.
As a nation we lag far behind other industrialized countries in treating the social determinants of health care. And this terrible, horrific situation is what happens (repeatedly) when as a country we ignore social needs and instead allow the vested interests of corporations to over-ride the best interest of consumers. We act on individual injustice while passively turning a blind eye to corporate injustice (e.g., Purdue Pharma and the OxyContin tragedy that resulted in 70,000 deaths in 2019 alone) or government ineptitude (where was the promised protection of the Federal Drug Administration that allowed the Opioid crises to occur in the first place?)
For decades we have pretended that racial profiling did not exist and ignored the totally senseless pattern of the deaths of our Black citizens. But perhaps this trial can be the turning point if as a society we acknowledge that we all have the same pre-existing condition: we are human. Nowhere is this fact more evident than in the pandemic which exposed both our vulnerability and inter-dependence.
Incessant media coverage of the trial provided a smokescreen so that our citizens could ignore or deny the actual issues: 1) the absence of a health care infrastructure that meets the mental, social, educational and physical needs of our citizens, and 2) an abject failure to hold corporations and government bodies accountable.
We have an opportunity to uplift humanity and create a moral and just society. But we will miss this opportunity if we continue our myopic focus on individual blame and ignore our collective responsibility.
Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.
All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses. Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners. She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.
Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.