Black Neurosurgeons Address Jacob Blake Shooting

Black Neurosurgeons Address Jacob Blake Shooting

We are tired, but we are resolute. In June, a group of Black Neurosurgeons came together to condemn the murder of George Floyd. At the time, buoyed by our newfound numbers and the groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter Movement, we were hopeful that adding our voices to those around us could help spur change in our communities. That hope feels slightly dimmed in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

We know that the arc of history bends towards justice, and we know that this arc bends slowly. However, we were all stunned by the video of the unwarranted shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police. This incident hit home, as we have all tended to patients with severe spinal cord injuries. Gunshot wounds to the spine are particularly devastating, due to the amount of energy that can be transferred to a soft, but vital structure, in a small, rigid space. While we hope for recovery, we know that his life has been forever altered. Hearing that this man, assaulted by police in front of his three young children, is now sitting, handcuffed, in the hospital, despite being paralyzed from the waist down, is almost too much to bear.

If the moral injury we have all felt in witnessing this grievous neurological attack was not enough, we are now reeling from subsequent vigilante violence in Kenosha. A 17-year old was driven into Wisconsin by his mother. He and other vigilantes like him, heavily armed, were not restrained or confined by law enforcement, but they were rather welcomed into Kenosha by police and given free reign. While engaging with protesters, this Illinois man shot a man, in the head, at close range with a rifle, before shooting two more protesters who tried to disarm him, killing one. Again, we are only too familiar with what a rifle bullet, with the massive kinetic energy it possesses, can do to the brain, causing irreparable damage, well beyond the path of the bullet. Efforts to provide first aid were futile. After shooting three people, with witnesses, on video, this man walked right past police. They did not even attempt to detain him, let alone shoot him, despite protesters identifying him as the shooter. He was later apprehended after fleeing the state, and he is now in custody, unharmed.

The cognitive dissonance of witnessing an unarmed Black man shot in the back 7 times in front of his children, while a White mass shooter with a rifle was allowed to flee a crime scene, unimpeded, is difficult to cope with. However, disparities in the application of our criminal justice system happen daily. 

Sadly, such disparities continue on a daily basis in healthcare. The world is mourning the loss of Chadwick Boseman, an actor who portrayed countless Black icons, including Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, James Brown and, of course, the Black Panther, to colon cancer. Black people are 20% more likely to develop colorectal cancer, and they have a 45% higher mortality rate. Neurosurgery is not immune to the effects of implicit bias and racism. Over the past several weeks, we have been leading a series, Black Lives in Neurosurgery, where we have examined disparities in healthcare and neurosurgery. In this series, we have discussed the historical racist violence perpetrated upon Black people in the healthcare system; learned how Black trainees are disproportionately targeted and dismissed by training programs; and discussed the racism we have all experienced at the hands of patients, colleagues and the general public.

On Thursday, September 3rd, at 8:30pm EDT/5:30pm PDT, we will end our webinar series with a discussion on solutions for Black Lives in Neurosurgery. While the series ends, our work is just beginning. That work will continue to focus, in part, on neurosurgery, but we cannot sit on the sidelines while our brothers and sisters continue to experience state-sanctioned violence. We stand in solidarity with professional athletes the world over who have paused to say enough is enough. With our responsibility to our patients, a boycott is not as easy for us to organize, but we are determined to demonstrate that we will not fade quietly into the night.

Even with our collective expertise and knowledge, gathered from across the country and touching every millimeter of the nervous system, we cannot yet mend Jacob Blake’s spine, nor can we regenerate the mind lost to that vigilante’s bullet. However, we pledge that we will not leave this fight until we have found a way to protect our communities from the institutions that are supposed to be keeping them safe, both inside and outside of medicine.

We remain, in solidarity,

Nnenna Mbabuike, MD

William W. Ashley, Jr., MD, Ph.D., M.B.A., FAANS 

Edjah K. Nduom, MD, FAANS

Correspondence can be sent to:  

Survey: PfCJR Member Engagement

Survey: PfCJR Member Engagement

We Value Your Input

Please take 5 minutes to fill out our Member Engagement Survey

We hope that you are taking care of yourself. It has been a difficult year. We have all been affected by the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism.

For self-care, many of us have needed to retreat from the perpetual onslaught of violence perpetrated against Black people – Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshad Brooks, Breonna Tayler, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Elijah McClain, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton. However, we still feel spurred to action, knowing that our mission is more relevant than ever.

We would like to ask for your help. We have put together a short survey to help us pursue change with you as a partner. It will take no longer than 5-10 minutes, depending on whether you provide detailed written feedback.

Thank you for your ongoing support. We look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.

Click here for the survey!

In solidarity,

Edjah Nduom, MD
Founder and Chair, Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, Inc.

Nzinga Harrison, MD
Founder and Co-chair, Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, Inc.

Members of Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform

When the Hospital Fires the Bullet

PfCJR CORE ISSUE: Decriminalization of mental health and addictive disorders

The New York Times is bringing needed attention to the story of Alan Pean, violence in hospitals, and police brutality in interactions with the mentally ill. This incident is not new to us at Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, as we reported on Alan in our blog six months ago. He was shot, in the chest, by security officers while voluntarily admitted for psychiatric care. Luckily, he has survived to tell his story and fight against the unbelievable charges levied on him by prosecutors with the help of his loving family that includes a physician and two aspiring physicians. We commend the New York Times for bringing attention to this critical issue, one which all physicians should be able to get behind.


For more, please read the article on the New York Times website:

PfCJR Condemns Police Brutality in Hospital

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, Inc, was launched a little over three months ago. We were formed, in part, in response to the recent videos and reports of police killing unarmed people. We hope to use the platform we have been given as physicians to help bring about the lasting criminal justice reform that we believe can help prevent such tragic occurrences in the future.

While the videos of the killings that have occurred have been emotionally draining and disturbing in many ways, a recent episode has shaken our membership even further, despite the lack of video evidence. Alan Pean, a 26 year old young man, a patient at St Joseph’s Medical Center in Houston, TX, a man who was seeking care, a man who should have been under the protection of physicians, the son of a physician, the brother of a future physician, was shot in the chest by anoff-duty police officer while receiving treatment in the hospital. If there is video of the incident, it has not yet been released. But all we need to know, as physicians, as healers, has already been confirmed.

Whether in medical school, in training or in practice, I am sure we have all encountered patients, in the hospital, who may have threatened us, made us feel uncomfortable. Maybe we thought about calling security, and sometimes, maybe we did. But even if we did need the support of security, in the majority of situations, we were able to use our experience, our desire to help, our training to diffuse the situation so that we could continue to medically manage the patient – even as they were threatening us.

Like us, police officers need training to handle situations like this. This is why PfCJR hopes to partner with police departments to help them do their jobs in the best way possible, to allow them to serve and protect. In order to do that, they need the competence to turn a dangerous situation into a safe one. Courses such as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) have been specifically developed for training officers to respond to individuals with mental illness. As described in a review article published in Best Practices in Mental Health: An International Journal, CIT training has been demonstrated to result in fewer arrests of individuals with mental illness, less use of force, more reliance on low-lethality measures when force was used and improvements in attitudes and knowledge about mental illness and is considered a best practice in law enforcement.

We believe that our police officers can do better — we believe that they want to do better. But we must demand that they use the tools that are already available — tools that are evidence-based — tools have been proven to work. We cannot continue to accept the terrible events that have been occurring.

The founders of PfCJR have signed a petition written by other concerned physicians that outlines our outrage at this incident at St Joseph’s. The petition echoes Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform’s feelings about this situation by saying the following:

“As doctors and medical students, as nurses and care partners, we are trained in how to safely restrain and tranquilize patients, no matter how aggressive, or irritable, or anxious, or threatening they may be. Never is it appropriate or warranted for a patient to be tazed, never is it appropriate for a patient to be struck, never, never, never is it appropriate for a patient seeking care, to have their life threatened in our arms.”

We ask you all to join Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform in our campaign to ensure that we never have to hear about a situation like this ever again.

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform is seeking physicians to join our Speakers Bureau.  If interested, please contact us through JOIN page at the Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform website.

Dylann Roof and Assumed Criminality

The recent news of the terrorist attack on the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, has left many of us reeling. The thought that in 2015, that anyone could be subjected to the sort of domestic terrorism popularized by the Klu Klux Klan is truly sickening. As many of my friends and colleagues have joined me in expressing their grief and outrage at this event, one question has continued to come up, time and time again – what can we do to change our nation? How can we alter the hearts and minds of society, so that we no longer produce Dylann Roofs?

Many of the members of Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform are supporters of gun control, but we at PfCJR do not believe that this is the only solution. Whenever a mass shooting occurs, others call for improvements in our care of the mentally ill. While we are proponents for increased resources to treat our mentally ill patients, we do not feel that this addresses the clear racism that is involved in this case.

Dylann Roof said something that was both chilling and very revealing as he reloaded in the church that night, attempting to justify what it was he was doing – he said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Here he was, a young man who had been welcomed into a place of worship and had now decided to kill 9 innocent people – he attempted to kill more – and he justified his actions partially based on the assumed criminality of those present. Some may not be swayed by just that statement, second hand, but on a website registered to Dylann Roof, he writes a manifesto that explains his thinking on the world, particularly as it pertains to race. By far the largest section is devoted to Blacks. What is truly remarkable is that he attributes his “racial awakening” to the Trayvon Martin case.

Not only did he immediately conclude that Zimmerman must have been in the right, but he further searched the internet for more information on “Black on White crime,” and this led him to the Council of Conservative Citizens. This group is recognized by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate group, and its website showed an impressionable Dylann Roof sensationalized stories that they had hand-picked to attempt to prove that Black people are a significant threat to the lives of White people and White women in particular. This, ultimately, drove Dylann from a posture of looking down upon Black people to deciding that the Black race is a violent threat to White society that needs to be eliminated. In his terrorist plot, he decided to let the world know that Black people needed to be killed in the hopes that others would join his revolution.

And that brings us back to where Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform was founded. The assumed criminality of individuals, often based on race, even when logic and objective evidence would say otherwise, has already led to far too much death and violence that we have all witnessed. In this incident, one hateful, sinister young man, spurred on by communities of White Supremacists, are spreading the misinformation that Black people are criminal-minded by their very nature. And how can you blame them? The rates at which the USA incarcerates Black and Brown human beings are staggering nationwide. These numbers and the media coverage of the interaction between non-whites and the police create the caricature of Black and Brown people as inordinately criminal– this despite the fact that many of them find their way to jail for things that would be better treated by a physician – substance abuse and  untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as examples. Further, studies have shown that while substance abuse rates are remarkably similar across races, arrests for drug use are significantly higher for our minority population.

This is why the Criminal Justice Reform movement is being called “The New Civil Rights Movement.” Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform supports the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds, but we also know that, as a country, we must go beyond symbolism if we are going to alter the minds of those who are determined to hate.

We at PfCJR are focused on ways that we can use our expertise as physicians to create lasting criminal justice reform around our ​core issues​. That said, we firmly believe in the concept of “​Health in All Policies​.” We can and must get involved in discussions around any issue that is large enough that it touches the health of our communities, even if it does so indirectly. We must all fight to change the narrative that nurtures men like Dylann Roof. We must change the path that this country is on. We need criminal justice reform, and the time is now. Will you join us?