Need Help? Bystanders More Likely to Ignore Black People Who Need Medical Attention, Study Shows

2
2024
Circa 2000: Bystander Lois Hicks seeks help for Daryl Brian, 15, as he lies in the hallway of an apartment building on Sterling St., after being stabbed by a girl during a lovers' quarrel. Photo by Willie Anderson/NY Daily News Archive/Getty
Circa 2000: Bystander Lois Hicks seeks help for Daryl Brian, 15, as he lies in the hallway of an apartment building on Sterling St., after being stabbed by a girl during a lovers’ quarrel. Photo by Willie Anderson/NY Daily News Archive/Getty

Black Lives Matter, but apparently not in medical emergencies.  According to a new study released in the U.S., while bystanders often are reluctant to help those in need of medical attention, this is particularly the case when the people in need are Black.  The study from the American Journal of Public Health examined the rates that people with medical emergencies receive assistance from bystanders, and how this differs based on the race of the patient and the location.  The authors examined data from 22,487 patients from the 2011 National Emergency Medical Services Information System.

In the study, only 1 in 39 patients, or 2.57 percent, received support from strangers.  As low as that figure may be, Blacks were 58 percent less likely to receive aid than their white counterparts.  Further, the report found that help from bystanders is less likely not only among Black patients, but among those in the poorest counties.  In counties with low population densities, whites and Blacks were more likely to receive help from bystanders. But still, Blacks are less likely to receive help.

“We don’t know whether there were bystanders present at these medical emergencies – bystanders there who didn’t help – or whether there weren’t any people around,” said Erin York Cornwell, sociology researcher at Cornell University and co-author of the study with Alex Currit, according to Business Insider. “However, we observe low rates of bystander support even in very densely populated areas, which suggests that the low rates of bystander support also reflect situations where bystanders are present but don’t directly engage with the patient,” York Cornwell added.

As Business Insider reported, other studies have revealed that Blacks suffering from a heart attack are less likely than whites to receive CPR from a bystander.  Although this is attributed to the lack of first aid or CPR training in communities of color, there is more at play here, including the racial stereotyping of Black people as a threat to one’s safety.

“But I think this goes beyond training, because we’re looking at such a huge range of conditions,” York Cornwell told Business Insider. “Some of the most common forms of helping that we see are simple things like providing a blanket or water, putting pressure on a wound, stabilizing a patient, or helping with medications like aspirin.”

The serious implications of the public health study were brought to light in Chicago, when Marques Gaines, 32, was robbed, beaten and run over by a taxi.  Gaines was approached by an assailant at a 7-Eleven convenience store and knocked unconscious. Some men searched Gaines’ pockets as he lay unconscious, yet none of the dozen onlookers attempted to help him.  After he was struck by a taxi that was unaware he was in the street, Gaines died four hours later.  This incident reflects the lack of compassion for Black people, in a society where Black life is devalued, and has been so since America became America.

The criminalization of Black people in the U.S. has been well documented, with implicit bias and institutional racism playing a decisive role in the disciplining of Black children in school, the abuse of Black juveniles and adults alike by the police, and their punishment by the courts and prison systems.  However, what is likely not as well known is that African-Americans — who are less likely to benefit from outreach from a good Samaritan — are more likely to be killed as pedestrians in traffic accidents in the first place. Simply put, white drivers are less likely to stop for Black pedestrians crossing the street.

A 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control found that Black, Latino and Native Americans are particularly impacted by pedestrian fatalities.  Black and Latino men are twice as likely to be killed while crossing the street, while the risk for Native American men is four times greater.  Even though the disparities were less for women, they are still considerable.  While Native American women are twice as likely as white women to be killed by a car, Black and Latino women have a 50 percent greater risk.

Moreover, a study released by Portland State University and the University of Arizona in 2014 suggests that “walking while Black” is a problem.  According to Streetsblog USA, researchers conducted an experiment with six subjects, including three Black men and three white men of comparable build and dress who tried to cross a two-lane street.  The road had a crosswalk but no traffic light.  The study found that Black pedestrians waited a third longer to cross the road, and were passed by twice as many cars as the white participants.  Implicit bias, the researchers found, is involved in the split-second decision-making of drivers, and they may not even be aware of it.

 

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