The Work of a Street Medic

My response is: ‘Okay, I have these skills. There are people who want to support community and are out there getting hurt.’

As protestors took to the streets in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, street medics mobilized to provide care. Minnesota Women’s Press spoke with Jacqueline Zepeda about their experience and why they are now focusing on training BIPOC medics.

Q: What is a street medic?

Street medics are volunteers with various degrees of medical training. They help provide first aid in situations where there might not be medical professionals — demonstrations, protests, disasters, and in under-served communities. 

I moved to the Twin Cities about two and a half years ago. I was with North Star Health Collective for two years and I haven’t been part of their core group for the last year. I’ve started just working with BIPOC medics as a response to [the uprising], just noticing that there was a need for people of color, who usually don’t have as much access to resources. I have been focused on getting more BIPOC folks the knowledge to get first aid and care skills under their belts. 

Q: How do you see the activist and healthcare professional parts of your life intersecting?

I am a nationally registered EMT. I studied pre-med a few years ago. I am studying something else now, but I still have my EMT certification. I have been a Wilderness First Responder [and] I am CPR-certified. As an activist I have mostly worked as a trainer for nonviolent direct action and lately I have been getting herbal support and street medic trainings out for people of color so that we are more equipped for what’s going on. 

There are a lot of young folks out in the streets who have never protested before. They [experience] violence from the police but are ill-equipped [when it happens]. My response is: ‘Okay, I have these skills. There are people who want to support community and are out there getting hurt.’ 

Q: What distinguishes someone who is trained as a street medic from someone in traditional healthcare?

I have been training people to ask for permission before going in and trying to establish a relationship with someone in need of care. That does happen in the professional realm of things, but sometimes it is not as thorough as what I am trying to teach people, [how to understand] the intersectionality that people have with the police, EMS, fire. We try to practice trauma-informed care. 

Street medics practice asking folks who are under-served or marginalized about the [personal] ways they care for themselves. Getting people who are under-represented into healthcare professions is helpful. As someone who is of Indigenous descent and a Chicanic person, if I see other people who look like me there is trust that can build. 

Q: What are street medics doing day-to-day? 

Last year we were doing support around Indigenous folks who started an encampment off of Hiawatha Avenue. They got relocated for the winter and the city has promised to give them housing, but they are still just moving around. Another encampment started in a different place, so street medics are giving them aid and supplies during the pandemic.

[At the Sheraton Hotel sanctuary in Midtown] over 200 people got housing and now they have relocated to Powderhorn Park. I have seen a lot of the medic support there. There is a vigil where the murder happened and medics are set up there. 

Q: What were you seeing at the May uprising?

I was out the first night after the murder of George Floyd. I was there with folks who were marching from 38th and Chicago to the Third Precinct. There were a lot of kids, young adults, elders. Some people were just there taking up space, and a few people were damaging property. The police eventually used tear gas and things escalated quickly from that day on. All the people I treated were young Black women. I realized we need more folks in the BIPOC community [with these skills] to be able to take care of each other. 

I noticed that the police would use a lot of force on people who were peacefully protesting. As the days went on, there was evidence of groups who were not protesting and were starting fires, [such as] white supremacists. 

I think what is not in the media is a lot of really beautiful community organizing around helping POC-owned businesses put up plywood, putting out fires, and helping people who are houseless get food. 

Q: What does it mean for you to be putting your body on the line in this way?

There is a part of me that says, ‘Okay, I’m not going to be out in the streets anymore.’ [But] I have had the privilege to learn the skills that I have, so it is hard not to respond. It is a lot physically and emotionally to carry and process. For a lot of folks who are marginalized, who don’t have access to housing, better jobs, education, or healthcare, [protesting] is an added stress. They already have a disadvantage, so how can we get them more support?

I have learned that what is sustainable for me is [making] goals to take care of myself, and teaching others how to do that for themselves. I know what teas are good for my immune system and nervous system. There are different ways we can take care of ourselves and that knowledge will be with us for a long time. 

We don’t know what will happen next, but with this pandemic we are trying to figure it out as we go. I think the best thing we can do is to support each other in being well and healthy as best as possible. 

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story misstated that Zepeda has been with North Star Health Collective for two years. They are no longer with North Star Health Collective.


Resources

A history of street medics

Femme Empowerment Project, BIPOC skill shares and workshops lead by Jacqueline Zepeda

Divine Natural Ancestry

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