By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
University of Chicago graduate students held a press conference today to speak out about what they said was rough treatment they and other demonstrators received for peaceably protesting the lack of a trauma center at the U. of C. Medical Center. The group also made attempts to deliver petitions to U. of C. President Robert Zimmer and U. of C. Medicine President Sharon O’Keefe.
“This area is lacking access to fundamental trauma care,” said Averill Leslie, a graduate student at U. of C. “Yesterday, a group attending to engage the question of why not they were met with a violent response.”
The students were demonstrating with members of Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), a Woodlawn-based youth organization, on Sunday at the recently dedicated Center for Care and Discovery on the medical center campus. Protestors have been advocating for a trauma center at the U. of C. Medical Center, which closed its center in the 1980s, citing the expense of operating the center. According to eyewitnesses and a video posted online, members of the University of Chicago Police forcibly detained members of the group and ejected others from the hospital.
The group delivered a petition that received more than 650 signatures between Sunday evening and Monday morning. At press time, the petition had reached more than 700 signatures.
“University of Chicago is always bragging about being at the forefront of medicine but cannot take care of people on the South Side who need immediate care,” said Marcia Rothenberg, a Hyde Park resident and retired registered nurse, who worked at the U. of C. Medical Center. “They point at Black kids who are shot and say they have no room for trauma care, but there are other things besides gun shot cases – there are bikes accidents and car accidents.”
Rothenberg said that two years ago she hit a parked car that tipped over and while the accident happened five blocks from U. of C. hospital campus, she and her husband were taken in separate ambulances to Northwestern Hospital.
“I’m here for the people who are not here,” said graduate student Duff Morton referring to U. of C. alum Alex Goldenberg, U. of C. Ph.D. student Toussaint Losier, Jacob Klippenstein and Victoria Crider who were arrested during the protest Sunday afternoon.
Morton said he was also speaking on behalf of Damien Turner, a Woodlawn resident and founding member of FLY. He said about three years ago Turner was shot in front of his home on his way to a party. Turner was four blocks away from the U. of C. Medical Center and he bled to death in an ambulance on his way to Northwestern Hospital.
“I don’t understand why a medical center would close its trauma care center because they have too many patients,” Morton said.
Kaya Williams said she was there in support of her friend Losier. She said she was outraged by what she heard and what she saw in a recording of the protest that was posted to YouTube.
“He was thrown to the ground by police officers and his face was smashed against the concrete,” Williams said.
The group delivered a copy of the petition to the office of Belinda Vazquez, associate dean of students in the university’s Student Affairs office and demanded an appointment with Zimmer.
The petition asks U. of C. administrators to explain why police officers forcibly arrested the four people who had come to protest the lack of a trauma center at the U. of C. Medical Center.
According to the petition, police choked Losier with a nightstick, kept him handcuffed and forced him to lie face-down on cold cement for approximately ten minutes in sub-freezing weather.
“Dual policing is leading to dual brutality,” said U. of C. student Olivia Woollam, referring to City of Chicago and U. of C. police who patrol the area.
The attempt to deliver a second copy of the petition to O’Keefe was intercepted by a medical center staff member who took the petition, said he’d pass it to the proper authority then promptly told the students they were trespassing on private property and would have to leave.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page Sunday evening, FLY said that if the university can find $700 million to build a new research hospital, it can afford to create a more accessible trauma center.
“The University of Chicago is a few blocks from where we live, one of the areas where the violence is the worst. They are the richest hospital in Chicago but have no trauma care for anyone over 16,” FLY said in a statement. “Our point was if you can find that kind of money, you can save lives of the community around you.”
U. of C. Medicine issued its own press release in response to the incident.
“On the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, several people gained unauthorized entry to the new hospital and were asked to leave. Any charges from that incident would come from the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.”
Trauma centers are a specifically designated type of emergency room in which a battery of physicians, including specialists, are on call 24 hours a day to treat particularly invasive injuries.
Herald Staff Writer Lindsay Welbers contributed to this report.