Healthcare workers on Staten Island take knee in solidarity with victims of police brutality

June 11, 2020

By Joseph Ostapiuk and Rebeka Humbrecht,

Just after noon on Thursday, dozens of workers at SIUH gathered and took a knee for one minute inside of the hospital. (Staten Island Advance/Joseph Ostapiuk)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) workers in Ocean Breeze on Thursday took a knee inside the entrance of the Regina M. McGinn Education Center for one minute in solidarity with national protests calling for law enforcement accountability and an end to racial injustice.

Stephanie Pagano, 27, a licensed master social worker at the hospital and a member of 1199 SEIU — the union that organized the moments of silence across New York City — said the focus of the day’s vigil was to both show support for victims of police brutality and to also “bridge the gap” between the community and law enforcement.

Pagano said the effort aimed at informing "people of the issue at hand here, which has been in our nation since our nation’s birth, which is systemic racism,” and to also “raise awareness that being anti-racist does not mean we need to be anti-police. And, in fact it is quite the opposite — we need the police to eradicate this systemic racism.”

A member of a law enforcement family, Pagano said, “My heart weeps for and with the black and African community.”

“The unlawful and wrong death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and all those who have lost their lives without justice, I stand with you, I kneel with you, I pray with you, I cry with you,” Pagano said, adding that she also offers “prayers for those who are currently serving in the police force, and those who are husbands, wives and children of the police officers.”

Pagano said she felt there was a need for “reform within our police,” and also demanded “support from our police to stand up and speak against any and all injustice that you witness that goes on against your oath.”

Just after noon on Thursday, dozens of workers at SIUH gathered and took a knee for one minute inside of the hospital.

The poignant display comes on the heels of a series of peaceful marches across Staten Island that have spurred the borough’s top cop, Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey, to praise protesters on the Island.

Nationally, protests began shortly after a video surfaced allegedly showing Derek Chauvin, an ex-Minneapolis police officer, pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck while the victim repeatedly said that he couldn’t breathe during an attempted arrest.

Chauvin was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and charged with murder. The encounter was prompted by an allegation that Floyd tried to pay with a counterfeit bill at a store.

Dr. Brahim Ardolic, the executive director of SIUH, praised the partnership between the hospital and the union.

“Social justice is something that we can’t ignore anymore, and we have to just remember that at the end of the day we’re all human beings that need to not be afraid that our children aren’t going to be able to come home at night.”

Commenting on the displays of support from the North Shore to the South Shore on Staten Island in recent weeks, Pagano said “we cannot do this if we are divided. There is no strength if we don’t have the strength of the community.”

“We need to start here, starting at our hospital, at our places of employment, in our neighborhoods,” she said. “That’s number one.”

Staff members at Clove Lakes Health Care and Rehabilitation Center took a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. (Courtesy Jane Harris)

Nurses at Clove Lakes Health Care and Rehabilitation Center in Castleton Corners were among those who participated in the moment of solidarity.

Members of the same union that are on the Clove Lakes staff approached administrators on Thursday morning about the idea, said Jane Harris, director of public relations.

The facility administrator, Lorri Senk, broadcasted to the whole building that they would be taking a knee and reflecting in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement at 1:30 p.m.

Residents also participated, with those kneeling who were able to. Those who couldn’t kneel were encouraged by staff to reflect on the moment.

“We thought it was a great idea that we could participate in what’s going on worldwide to make a difference," Harris said.