Features — 13 November 2015 — by Rowland A. Parks
UEF-sponsored lecture on Why Black Lives Matters to Public Health

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 11, 2015–The UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) hosted a lectured on the (hash tag) “# Why Black Lives Matter to Public Health,” at the University of the West Indies Open Campus this evening.

The vacationing New York City Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Mary Bassett, who was visiting her daughter, Pambana Bassett, a volunteer librarian at Library of African and Indian Studies, delivered the lecture.

Sponsors for Dr. Basset’st lecture include Dr. Adrian Coye, CEO of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital; attorney and activist Audrey Matura-Shepherd; the University of the West Indies; Kremandala, and Marva’s Restaurant.

Dr. Bassett is a medical professional with more than 30 years’ experience in public health and recently published an article entitled: “Black Lives Matter – A Challenge to the Medical and Public Health Communities” in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in March of this year.

In her New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Basset writes: “As New York City’s health commissioner, I feel a strong moral and professional obligation to encourage critical dialogue and action on issues of racism and health. Ongoing exclusion of and discrimination against people of African descent throughout their life course, along with the legacy of bad past policies, continue to shape patterns of disease distribution and mortality.”

Dr. Basset explained that the lecture on Why Black Lives Matter to Public Health was delivered at a number of places, including the University of South Africa and the Harvard School of Public Health, among others.

Dr. Bassett used a slide presentation and posters made by artists to highlight the plight of blacks who are killed under circumstances involving law enforcement in the United States.

One slide states that in every 28 hours, a black man, woman or child is murdered by vigilante police or law enforcement. The data also reveals that 25.1 percent of black women live in poverty, which is higher than any other ethnic group in the United States.

In another slide entitled “Artist Respond,” the last words of four victims are recorded. Last December, the final words of Eric Garner who died from a chokehold by a NYPD officer, is etched forever in the consciousness of the hash tag movement, Black Live Matter, as Garner, a 43-year-old father, uttered his last words, “I can’t breathe.”

Garner’s death ignited violent protest in NYC after a grand jury failed to indict the officer responsible for his death.

Violence erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, in August last year after police shot and killed Michael Brown, despite Brown’s last words: “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting.”

In Sanford, Florida, Trevon Martin’s last words before George Zimmerman shot and killed him were, “What are you following me for?”

Dr. Bassett explained that Black Lives Matter to politicians when on June 22, 2015, the US President Barack Obama declared, “The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives—that cast a long shadow, and that’s still a part of our DNA that’s passed on … we’re not cured of it. Racism, we’re not cured of it.”

And to make matters worse, when it comes to the killing of blacks by law enforcement in the United States, the government had no record of how many people were killed. Dr. Bassett said that the government had to turn to the Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post, who had kept better records than the government.

Dr. Bassett said that compared to diseases such as HIV, diabetes and so on, the number of black lives lost due to police violence is small.

“We need to talk about things, even when we do not know how to change them,” Dr. Bassett said. “It helps to do research and it helps to look at ourselves and our profession.”

Finally, using maps of NYC, Dr. Bassett explained the geography of inequality in the various poor neighborhoods of NYC, and the life expectancy of peoples of color.

“These kinds of visuals should make people angry,” Dr. Bassett said. “Where are our efforts, because we should be directing them.”

New York City is in the top three of the most segregated places in the United States, Dr. Bassett asserted.

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