I can’t breathe.”

When we hear those words, our automatic response as nurses is to listen and try to help, to try to preserve life.

But in the case of the killing of George Floyd just a few days ago, those words are also a call to action – a call to speak out and act against racism and the killing of yet another Black person at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect.

George Floyd’s death comes on the heels of a deeply troubling couple of weeks – when Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Abery were sense­lessly killed. It comes on the heels of a white woman calling the police and threat­ening the safety of Chris­tian Cooper in New York’s Central Park. And this on the heels of count­less other Black deaths at the hands of law enforce­ment and those who seek to do harm to someone who does not share their skin color.

Racism has a 400 year history in America – and the hand of racism rests heavily on the health care system and public health. We know that people of color face systemic barriers to accessing health care and being listened to or heard. It is the reason African American women face higher rates of maternal death and why the burden of the coron­avirus pandemic is falling more heavily on people of color. It is why African Ameri­cans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US for most cancers. It is why African Ameri­cans are almost twice as likely to die from a firearm than their white counter­parts. And, it is why we as nurses most look racism in the face and call it what it is.

This is a public health crisis – one that has taken Black lives for hundreds of years. Nurses are called on to advocate for their patients and their commu­ni­ties. That is why we cannot remain silent.

The Washington State Nurses Associ­a­tion stands in solidarity with all those who are calling for an end to systemic racism, racial violence and police brutality. We also are calling on our profes­sion to look hard at the many ways racism manifests itself in our health care system and in patient care. We must do better.

We know that a state­ment is not enough and that this is not an isolated incident. We are calling for action. For action to bring George Floyd’s killers to justice and justice for the many victims of racist violence before him.