Protests gripped many of our nation’s communities this summer and fall. Most individuals engaged in rallies and marches were lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights relating to freedom of speech and assembly. Protests focused on an array of social justice issues.
Events often included protestors and counter-protestors. Unfortunately, many public actions were marred by violence. It was frequently unclear if those perpetrating destructive actions were truly associated with the peaceful protests.
One trigger point related to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Rioters subsequently destroyed large sections of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Businesses, mostly in disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods and often minority owned, were subjected to massive looting, property destruction, and arson.
Dental practices were not spared. The dental clinic of Dr. Ali Barbarwi primarily serves the disadvantaged. His facility was completely destroyed by rioters. After the break-in and property destruction, looting ensued. Finally, the clinic was subjected to an arsonist’s damage from fire and smoke. Barbarwi watched the entire attack from in-office security cameras relayed to his cell phone.
“I grabbed my cell phone and watched the cameras. I saw these people just go into the office, break into the office, looting everything, vandalizing everything, and just taking everything out of the office,” Barbarawi told Fox & Friends.
This destruction came immediately on the heels of two months of closure due to the coronavirus.
“People have been waiting for two months for us to come back and serve them and now, out of nowhere, you have this big challenge and then the patients have to wait more,” Barbarawi said.
Barbarwi was overwhelmed by the destruction he witnessed the next day.
“It was like a war zone,” he told ADA News. “This is not something we’re used to in our peaceful city of Minneapolis.”
Louisville was the home of the police slaying of Breonna Taylor. Emotions reached a boiling point once the grand jury report was released related to police culpability and non-culpability.
“Being closer to the Breonna Taylor case than the national news media, locally we probably had a different opinion of some things than the national media did. Our office is located close to a major shopping mall and Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s house,” said Dr. Patrick Carroll, a dentist in Louisville.
“The local community social media pages several times were rife with chatter and rumors of out-of-town caravans, or organized events that would block local thoroughfares, target large malls, etc. The first time there was such a rumor we did close our office as a precaution. As you might imagine, no event occurred,” Carroll said.
“The next few times social media was abuzz with such things, we decided to deal with it if anything came about. We instructed our employees and patients to check their cell phones for any last-minute texts from us if situations changed. Be adaptable if possible,” he said.
“Even though some team members had concerns on those days, we told them if they did not feel safe to not feel they had to come to work. All but one did work, and nothing materialized. There was a peaceful protest on the attorney general’s lawn, about a mile from our office. Some arrests were made, some of the more serious charges were dropped, but we saw no ill effects from that,” Carroll said.
“So, from a dollars and cents impact, it only cost us a day’s work. There were a few people who cancelled appointments on us out of concern for traveling on days rumors were flying, but those appointments were easily refilled,” he said.
“Emotionally, it was a little different story. I was very sympathetic to the ideals of the peaceful protestors. My younger years were spent in the integrated neighborhoods of the west end of Louisville. One of my brothers-in-law is black,” Carroll said.
“I never viewed myself as prejudiced, but after seeing the George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and Trayvon Martin tragedies, I realized I had no idea what a person of color deals within our country. The husband of one of my team members is a retired police officer and now works in the Jefferson County Jail. He was nightly in the very thick of things,” he said.
“The husband of another one of my team members is in charge of disasters, which is probably the closest word, for our local utility company. Thus, he was heavily involved in security and responses. So, you can imagine we each had differing information, concerns, and views of the actual protest situations and the accompanying violence by some involved. They would have stories that were not shared on local media,” Carroll said.
“Even for those not intimately involved, emotions and feelings were near the surface. While we had discussions about race, white privilege, peaceful protests, and violence, we had to agree to be sympathetic to all of the concerns of each of our team members, to try and not judge. You couldn’t decree, ‘We are not going to talk about it,’ as we all saw the value of exchanging our ideas. It didn’t always work. There was some headshaking and eye rolling. But I really think we came to see how some arrive at differing views,” he said.
“Most of our patients are white, but I would say for a suburban practice we have more people of color than a lot. I originally practiced in downtown Louisville some 17 years ago, for 15 years. Many of our patients of color followed us. Many referred their friends. And although I don’t feel Louisville has done a great job of integrating all its neighborhoods, we do have a fair number of people of color near our office,” he said.
“We also have many patients who are in local law enforcement, some retired from federal law enforcement, some patients in state government. We also have an office designed where it is not difficult to hear what is being discussed in an adjacent operatory if one wants to,” he continued.
“The point of all that is we did decide to not bring the protests up specifically. Although I think a discussion between those who hold different opinions is one of the best ways to grow, I’m not sure the time for that is at a dental appointment,” he said.
“I would usually start my conversations with, ‘How you are doing in these difficult times we are living in?’ and let the patient guide the conversation from there. If someone wanted to bring the topic up, actually very few did, I would listen to their views and concerns, try to sympathize, and express my understanding,” he said.
“Some did express views I did not agree with and I would gently let them know I didn’t, but that I thanked them for sharing their views. Sometimes they just needed to speak,” he said.
“The day after the policemen were shot in downtown was tough. The view of the protestors changed. Some of those who were sympathetic to the goals started taking a more ‘enough is enough’ attitude,” Carroll said.
“Even on good days filled with professional or personal triumphs or just a smooth day at the office, knowing that peaceful protesting against white privilege was going on, violence was a possibility,” he said.
“The nation was looking at your community. It was like the soundtrack of your life was a depressing one. Maybe that is a wakeup call, though. It has made me more aware of how we as a nation and I personally have to do better to be sure all are treated equally,” he said.
“What I learned is I needed to be more sympathetic to views held by members of my team and patient base, whose personal experiences are different than mine. We all have something to learn from each other, and we need to be sensitive to each other’s concerns and state of mind. We have to be fluid and adaptable to situations as they change. Our primary concern needs to be team and patient safety, but you also have to do your due diligence and not get too worked up over rumors or overreact,” he said.
West Palm Beach, Florida
Protests spread to numbers of communities, inclusive of West Palm Beach, Florida. Too often, initial peaceful protests turned violent and destructive.
Dr. Mike, who asked that we withhold his last name, discussed some of these incidents on his blog, The Dental Warrior.
“I was perusing Facebook and came across two dental offices that were completely destroyed by rioters. The photos of the offices were stunning, disturbing, and sad. They were completely destroyed. Those practices were finished,” he said.
“A few hours later, I got a message from someone connected to the local police department. Rioters were planning to meet one mile from my office. Suddenly, I realized I had urgent ‘paper and lab work’ to be done at the office,” he continued.
“Thankfully, nothing happened. The gathering of aspiring rioters was exceedingly small and quickly corralled by the local police. Twice more, I got intelligence about planned riots, and twice more I went to the office,” he said.
“On two occasions, friends met me at the office to keep me company while I attended to the urgent ‘paper and lab work,’” Dr. Mike said.
“The ride from home to my office was very somber. I thought about my family at home and my dental family. I knew that I could be facing a life and death decision, should I be attacked. I am a Persian Gulf veteran, and I had more certainty there than I have now. I would rather be back in the Persian Gulf than deal with this. Truly,” he said.
“It’s important to mention that I would not be defending the property, specifically. If my locked office were breached by violent rioters, I would be defending myself. I have a right to be on my own property, and I have a right to defend my own life,” he said.
“While the riots in my area did not materialize, I was mentally exhausted after each of the three potential events. I was relieved, of course, that nothing happened. But I was wiped out mentally and physically. I also realize that it is not over. I fully expect future unrest on a national scale, related to upcoming events,” he said.
Dr. Mike also expressed great compassion for his dentist colleagues.
“I felt incredibly sad for those dentists. Those offices were destroyed solely for the sake of destruction. I understand what it takes to build a dental office and a dental practice. Those that argue ‘that’s what insurance is for’ are profoundly ignorant,” he said.
“Even if insurance would cover the costs of the physical office, the dentist will be out of business for over a year. It will take at least that long to rebuild a new facility. And, by then, the practice itself (the patients) will be long gone,” he said.
“Those dentists will have to start over completely. What they have worked for their entire lives is over, because opportunistic thugs knew that they would not be held accountable for their wilding. And they weren’t,” he said.
Some challenged Dr. Mike’s stand, but he called the notion that he had no need to be in his office preposterous.
“I often work on the practice after hours. Regardless, I have a right to be there. Furthermore, some detractors accused me of caring more about property than lives. To the contrary. The rioters invading and burning occupied businesses are the ones with utter disregard for lives. But I do value my own life. A lot,” he said.
“I cannot imagine how I would feel, or what I would do, if my office ended up completely gutted like those I saw on Facebook. But I knew I could not forgive myself if I had not finished that ‘lab work.’”
Dentists run their practices to serve many communities and their sundry demographics. They are integral in service to the public welfare. Dentists are not isolated from the social issues of our times. We also all have differing perspectives and diverse experiences. Respect for dissimilar viewpoints is imperative to operate a functional society.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Dr. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and malpractice legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review Committee and serves as a state dental association member to its house of delegates. He extensively writes and lectures on related matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or smilesofsantafe.com.