For Esmin, what’s at stake with Health Care Reform

Featured, Health — By Avis Jones-DeWeever on March 19, 2010 at 09:52

Every once in awhile, history sneaks up on us. In movements past, the sting of injustice couldn’t be clearer. Bold acts of violence interspersed within wide-ranging systems of injustice, made the steady march towards civil rights an obvious moral imperative in need of correction. Yet, somehow, the invisibility of human suffering replicated in the lives of millions of families across this nation has served as a silent catastrophe, perhaps perceived as a deserved fate in a nation that has consistently valued individual “rights” over collective responsibility. Yet, as we near the end-game in our latest tumultuous fight for health care reform, it is this nation’s obstructionists who have defined the parameters of the debate, demonstrated in the streets, and flooded the airwaves with lies and distortions, falling back on America’s age-old tradition of utilizing fear in order to stand in the way of change.

Perhaps more than any other, African Americans must be in this fight. Even beyond our history of pushing this nation towards a moral compass, the reality is, far too many of us fail to receive the health care we need.

New York Civil Liberties Union / AP

I remember watching in horror images from an emergency room surveillance camera that captured for the world to see, the tragic death of a 49 year-old Black woman who collapsed, convulsed, and died on the emergency room floor while waiting for the care she desperately needed. That image has haunted me. I wanted to learn more about this woman and in some way, honor her humanity even if that honor, for her, comes much too late.

Her name was Esmin Green. She was a church-going woman and a hard-working Jamaican immigrant. On that fateful day, Esmin sat alone. She waited patiently, for nearly an astounding 24 hours, in search of the health care she desperately needed—care that tragically, never came.

No one deserves the demise that Esmin faced, her last moments completely devoid of dignity. In a nation of such abundance, how could this be? Did she, like millions of others, put off seeking medical treatment until the very end because she lacked insurance that could have provided her access to preventative care? Had she been waiting for nearly an entire day to be seen by a physician due to the typical overcrowding we all have come to expect and accept in emergency rooms due to this nation’s standard practice of denying care to millions who must then utilize the ER as their only source of primary care? If that is indeed the case, do we all, to some extent, bare some level of responsibility for Esmin’s sad demise if for no other reason than our complicit acceptance of this long-standing lack of basic human rights in a nation that claims to lead the world in moral standing?

I know the health care legislation that will come up for a vote this Sunday does not include everything that many, including me, believe all those hard-working Esmins out there deserve. But I will not cross my arms, turn my back, and march away from this fight like some spoiled two-year old that didn’t get her way. While imperfect, this legislation is a substantive start. It will provide coverage for over 30 million whom would have otherwise gone without. It will end the vast injustice of barring help from those who need it the most simply because they have faced health challenges in the past. The bottom line is, we need this change. And in honor of Esmin, I will do everything in my power to make sure it comes to pass. Join me in this effort, and one day, you can tell your children and grandchildren, that you were on the right side of history. On this day, you fought for change.

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Author: Avis Jones-DeWeever (3 Articles)

Avis Jones-DeWeever

Avis A. Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D. is the Director of the Research, Public Policy, and Information Center for African American Women. The RPPI Center is a research/action institute based at the National Council of Negro Women which seeks to inform, catalyze and mobilize African American women for change in both the policy arena and throughout the broader cultural dynamic. Dr. Jones-DeWeever is the author of numerous publications focused on policy-issues of particular importance to women of color. A selection of her works include: Losing Ground: Women and the Foreclosure Crisis; Black Girls in New York: Quite Strength, Bold Resilience; Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast; and The Black Women and Families Agenda for Change. In addition to her written contributions, Dr. Jones-DeWeever is a highly sought-after political commentator and public speaker. Her policy perspectives have been shared through a variety of media outlets including: CNN, PBS, ABC News Now, Voice of America Television, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, Sirius and XM Radio, Glamour Magazine, Pink Magazine, Essence Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and Vital Speeches of the Day. Dr. Jones-DeWeever received her Ph.D. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park. She serves on the Board of the Women’s Voices. Women’s Vote. Action Fund and maintains the position of Affiliated Scholar with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

  • 1 Comment

  • laurentenney says:



    Contact/Interviews: Lauren Tenney, Psychiatric Survivor
    phone: (516) 319-4295
    e-mail: [email protected]

    Who: Esmin Green who was murdered-by-neglect at the Kings County Hospital Center Psychiatric Emergency Room, All People.
    What: Demonstrations, Speak Outs and Candle Light Vigil to mark 2 years since the murder-by-neglect of Ms. Esmin Elizabeth Green, mourn her loss, and condemn continued human rights violations by organized psychiatry.

    Why: WE THE PEOPLE call to shut down Kings County Hospital Center’s psychiatric services; for an end of abuse, torture, and neglect in the wake of Ms. Green’s death on June 19, 2008, while detained at Kings County Hospital Center’s Psychiatric Emergency Room; and to call attention to human rights violations committed since then.

    Where: Kings County Hospital Center, Psychiatric Emergency Room, Building R. 410 Winthrop Street Brooklyn, NY 11203

    Date: June 18, 2010 5 PM – June 19, 2010, 5 PM

    Time: Press Conference 6 PM June 18 (Demonstrations begin at 5 PM June 18, Candle Light Vigil, 8:30 PM – 5 PM June 19)


    WE THE PEOPLE began as an alliance of people who were accused of and treated for “mental illness”. We have survived with our lives, unlike Ms. Green. However, our liberty, our health, and our futures continue to be under the threat of the therapeutic state – and so is yours.

    Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney for the family of Ms. Green will be speaking at the press conference. He urges, “Only by people speaking out and remembering what happened to Esmin Green can we prevent others from suffering her fate”.

    Also speaking out will be people who survived commitment at Kings County Hospital Center and now work to make sure others do not have to experience what they were subjected to and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chair of the Mental Health Committee (invited).

    On June 19 it will be two years since Esmin Green was murdered-by- neglect at the Kings County Hospital Center Psychiatric Emergency Room. In February 2010, it was reported by the media that a male “patient” was raped by an employee of Kings County who was charged for the crime. As recently as April 27, 2010 more citations of abuses were published in the news.

    Not only does this abuse and torture happen – but it happens in the multi-million dollar new psychiatric building. This was supposed to end murder, abuse, rape, and torture of people confined within its walls – after the City agreed to court monitoring because of the abuses and torture that people were subjected to while detained in the facility.

    •This abuse and torture has been going on for centuries with no end in sight – we must make our voices heard!
    •Kings County is not safe.
    •Kings County should be closed down.
    •Rape and Death are not good outcomes.

    Department of Justice; Center for Medicaid/Medicare Services; Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration; Health and Hospitals Corporation; New York City Department of Mental Hygiene; New York State Office of Mental Health; Commission on Quality Care; — where are you?
    Why are independent external advocates still not allowed into this facility?
    Why is the government paying for this with millions of tax-dollars pumped into this place?
    Why is the NYPD Department of Investigations report siting multiple systemic problems being ignored?
    When is the Grand Jury going to present a bill?

    The experience of involuntarily detainment in a psychiatric emergency room or in a psychiatric institution is tantamount to torture. Human rights and feminist activist Kate Millett during the negotiations on the UN Convention on the subject of forced treatment and confinement of persons with disabilities stated, “”The power of an entire civilization massed against one lone individual. Every phone and lock and guard and drug . . . Everything conspires to make you completely alone and terrified. Malleable. These are the conditions of torture””..

    As in the HIGHLANDER STATEMENT of 2000, we call on all people to “act individually and collectively to ensure that self-determination, respect, ethical behavior, and humane voluntary supports and services become the foundation of a reinvented mental health system. This system must first and foremost do no harm”.

    We invite you, we implore you, to meet with us and work with us towards a humane environment and to establish alternatives to the atrocities of confinement, drugs, electroshock treatment, restraint, and seclusion. We let our light shine in remembrance of the victims of the mental illness system – for people who have suffered because of fear and ignorance – for people who have been traumatized – for people who have been disabled – for people who are dead – and for people who are not really living

    We are lighting candles to celebrate Esmin Green’s life and passion as a way to spark necessary change and call for the respect of human rights in mental health. We offer the light of these candles as a sign of love for our families and friends, and our elected officials, and broader communities who often trapped in circumstance and by the psychiatric system cannot understand us as we struggle to communicate.

    All people committed to human rights, join us.

    We invite all people to join us during this 24-hour period and stand united in support of the demand that everyone receive the full benefit of their human rights and the preservation of their liberty, dignity, and respect. There are vigils happening all over the world for Ms. Green to stand in solidarity with New Yorkers.

    If you can attend the vigil or not, call Governor Patterson (518) 474-8390, Mayor Bloomberg, (212) NEW-YORK, and your elected Representatives to express your outrage about Ms. Green’s murder and insist that the City of New York stand in full compliance with International law and Human Rights.

    If you would like to co-sponsor or endorse this demonstration, vigil, and its follow up forums, please contact us.



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