An inmate died in an Oklahoma jail on Tuesday after he was arrested at an emergency room where he sought care for a headache, KOCO-TV reported. Marconia Kessee’s death is the latest case that proves the health care system undervalues Black life.
“We believe that there was no actual mental evaluation, we believe that the doctors, hospitals, did not review or take the physical assessment of my nephew and that they are partly responsible and they will be held accountable,” said Michael Washington, Kessee’s uncle.
Security at the Norman Regional Hospital called the Norman Police Department to report that Kessee, 35, was causing a disturbance in the lobby after the ER released him. A 911 call from the hospital described Kessee as “wigged out.” When the officers arrived, they ridiculed Kessee before taking him into custody for trespassing, a video of the encounter showed. He was found unresponsive at the detention center hours later and taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“Wigging out means to me that someone who’s not quite capable or understanding his immediate environment or situation,” Washington stated in his demand for answers. The officers are now on administrative leave, as a matter of policy. An investigation is ongoing, but they are not implicated in Kessee’s death. The Norman Police Chief Keith Humphrey, however, was concerned about their “disparaging comments” caught on video.
Several instances of the devaluation of Black lives has surfaced, as many more go unreported. On Jan. 11, the University of Maryland Medical Center apologized after a video went viral, showing a mentally ill Black woman left outside of the emergency room wearing a hospital gown and socks in freezing temperatures.
In another case, there were protests and allegations of racism directed at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta after the hospital initially refused to perform a kidney transplant on a child because his father, who was a perfect match, was arrested several days before the operation for a parole violation.
Racism in the health care system is real—not imagined—several studies indicate. In one study, doctors exhibited less concern for Black patients than they did for White patients. The doctors stood at the bedside of White patients and were more compassionate when discussing health options. By contrast, the same doctors tended to stand at the door of their Black patients’ room and appeared disengaged.