It’s interesting sometimes how two seemingly un-related situations or circumstances can ultimately be so similar. At times it is helpful to take more than a few steps back in order to realize the issues that affect us all. This has never been more evident than the recent upheaval at a local hospital in LA. The King/Drew hospital in South LA serves a primarily working class African American and Latino constituency. The hospital has had a history of not being able to meet the needs of its patients. It has a high mortality rate, faulty equipment and personnel at the hospital have always been under some sort of scrutiny. Finally the hospital’s days of reckoning have come. Programs have been shut down at the hospital and many are recommending an outside agency to run the hospital and take care of the fiscal mismanagement once and for all. I thought to myself, finally!!! This should have happened a long time ago. I was happy to hear that justice would come to a working class Black and Brown community when it came to their health care. I was not prepared for the backlash that greeted these days of reckoning. I was not prepared for fight to promote civil wrongs in the name of social justice.
As swiftly as people moved to stop programs that were not working respected old school activists came out of the wood work to protest the dismantling of this hospital. They called the actions against the hospital racist. They blasted the city council members for touching “their” hospital. Some even felt this might be a ploy by the majority Latino community to change the name of the hospital to Emiliano Zapata Hospital. The majority however felt if these cuts happen people would just start dying and that only a Black hospital would be put under the microscope in this way. The question that keeps entering my mind is, how did the civil rights movement become the civil wrongs movement? How could defending a dysfunctional hospital that has not served Black and Brown folks well be considered an act of social justice? The hospital itself garnered the nickname “Killer King” and white supremacists did not name it so. African American residents of South LA saw fit to name it that. Police officers and Firemen of every race and creed have an un-spoken oath any time they deal with serious issues on the street, “if something goes wrong or I get hurt, do not send me to King/Drew.” This is the hospital pseudo activist want to save. This is the hospital that wears the names of one of America’s greatest leaders and one of America’s pioneers in the field of medicine. How indeed did we get here?
From what I have seen, and I submit I was not brought up during the era of the civil rights movements, much in America has changed. Things, for the most part have gotten better but much remains left to do. Health care in inner city and rural areas is appalling. Education in our under resourced areas is a nightmare and the achievement gap must be looked at as the biggest civil rights issue of this generation. Too often immigrants are made to be the scapegoats in tough economic times and this has to stop. We are embroiled in an arcane discussion over the sanctity of marriage as it pertains to Gays and Lesbians. People have a problem with same sex couples yet insipid shows like The Bachelor and How to Marry a Millionaire don’t seem to garner any type of protest. So again I ask if these are the issues we need to deal with, how we can fight to stop the dismantling of a hospital that has failed to meet the needs of its community? It makes no sense unless you have made a living off of identity politics. It makes no sense unless you have gained power by wearing your race or culture on your sleeve. It makes no sense whatsoever unless of course you have been able to galvanize a part of a community who constantly believe they are under the gun and who don’t see (or maybe refuse to see) the victories that we have won over the years. I wonder if these same activists ever had a sick relative stay at the hospital. Have they ever used the facilities? Have they given birth to their child at the hospital? I think I know the answer to my questions and this is the fundamental problem. These folks are willing to talk the precarious talk but when it comes walking the walk they fall very far from the mark. They may not frequent the hospital and it may be because deep down inside (when the cameras are off) they too have reservations about the competency of the hospital. I say if the hospital is not good for you then it is good for no one. We must not try and re-create movements of the past especially when the end goal seems to benefit no one. I admit that I myself will scrutinize the Black run hospital more than say a hospital in the suburbs mainly because I believe that institutions such as hospitals and schools should have a standard of excellence regardless of the socio-economics of the community.
The “civil wrongs” would have us defend institutions we know are not meeting the needs of working class communities. The civil rights leader seeks to make sure standards and quality are of the highest caliber for families and communities who deserve no less. The King/Drew hospital would have been shut down in a heart beat had it been in a fully resourced community and South LA should have the same type of standards. The same can be said for our schools in the public education realm. Too many times the clarion call has been to blame others. “It’s the systems fault.” We need more money. “We need more money to fix the system”. What we need is a movement that puts truth before style, substance before cameras and hard work before fists in the air.
Photo courtesy of The University Union