By Congresswoman Alma S. Adams, Ph.D.
Last week, yet another young Black parent was taken away from us by gun violence. Just 10 miles away from where Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, Daunte Wright was shot and killed during a traffic stop.
The shooting was preventable. There was no reason Daunte Wright had to die, but he did know the dangers he faced by being pulled over. He called his mom at the beginning of the traffic stop, and she listened in horror until the call suddenly ended.
When his mom received a call back, it was to inform her that Daunte had been shot.
For every tragedy like this, there are hundreds more close calls. This month, it came to light that police officers in Windsor, Virginia used excessive force and chemical agents against U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario during a routine traffic stop. Luckily, the stop did not end in tragedy, but it showed that not even the uniform of our armed forces is enough to protect a Black body from police misconduct.
Last week was also Black Maternal Health Week, a week where activists, legislators, and of course moms bring attention to the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis we face in this country. In this crisis, there are hundreds of lives taken from us each year, and thousands more close calls as well. From Beyoncé to Serena Williams, these close calls transcend economic and social status as well.
The police reform and maternal health crises, along with countless other racial disparities and equity issues, have something in common: a fundamental disrespect and misunderstanding of Black bodies.
Black patients are keenly aware of the dangers they face when they access health care. On April 17 of last year, 26-year-old Amber Issac tweeted that she “Can’t wait to write a tell all about my experience during my last two trimesters dealing with incompetent doctors” at her hospital in the Bronx.
On April 20, her doctors induced labor and proceeded with an emergency C-section. During the delivery, Amber’s heart stopped as the medical staff removed her son, Elias. Due to the pandemic, the hospital did not allow Amber’s partner to be in the room during the delivery and he later learned that she had HELLP Syndrome – also known as pre-eclampsia.
Little Elias was born more than a month early, but healthy; but by April 21, his mother, Amber, was gone.
The same implicit biases that make a police officer see a Black child as a dangerous adult can cause a doctor to overestimate the pain tolerance of a Black parent giving birth. The outcomes can be appallingly similar, too often resulting in the loss of a parent.
Whether it’s a traffic stop or a hospital visit, being Black in America is to live in a constant state of anxiety over what could happen to your body. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned that any public place was now more dangerous for Black bodies as we faced the reality that the pandemic affected us at a greater and more deadly rate.
When we wrote the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act to address many of these issues, we listened to Black voices. We centered Black women and crafted legislation that does the same. We acknowledged the existence of structural racism and implicit bias, and perused solutions that were not only culturally competent but also aimed at dismantling racism. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this critical legislation and save Black lives.
However, to fully address the crises Black bodies face, Congress must take these steps in more of the legislation we craft. As President Joe Biden wrote in his Black Maternal Health Week proclamation, “The morbidity and mortality disparities that Black mothers face are not the results of isolated incidents. Our nation must root out systemic racism everywhere it exists, including by addressing unequal social determinants of health that often contribute to racial disparities such as adequate nutrition and housing, toxin-free environments, high-paying job sectors that provide paid leave and workplaces free of harassment and discrimination.”
Our time on this Earth is short; our time in Congress is even shorter. We can use it wisely by passing bills like the Momnibus that addresses the root cause of disparities and inequities – racism – not just the symptoms.
Congresswoman Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. is serving her fourth full term in Congress. She represents the 12th District of North Carolina, which includes parts of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. In 2018, she introduced the first Black Maternal Health Week resolution with then-Sen. Kamala Harris. In 2019, she co-founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus with Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14). In March 2020, Adams, along with Harris and Underwood, introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act for the first time, and in February 2021 reintroduced an expanded version of the package with Sen. Cory Booker. Adams is a mother of two and a grandmother of four.