The Mighty Logo

Viral Video Shows Why Protesting Can Be Dangerous for People With Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I couldn’t sit by and not use my privilege. So on Monday, June 1, I packed a bag full of water, juice, applesauce and my medical supplies (I have diabetes) and headed to downtown Cincinnati, OH to meet up with my younger sister, Hannah, and our friend, Kaitlyn, to join the Black Lives Matter protests.

After I got to the protest, I learned about the 8 p.m. curfew, but figured if we started going back to our car at about quarter til, we’d make it out OK. The cops started pushing in on the crowd, and I saw a tank roll out from around the corner of the Justice Center. The three of us decided to stay with the crowd and find safety in numbers. Soon enough, though, the police presence became too much, and people started splintering off from the crowd. Hannah, Kaitlyn and I ran down an alleyway with a group of about 10 to 12 people and hid behind a house.

There was nowhere we could run to; we were surrounded on all sides by cops. We couldn’t stay hidden forever, especially when I realized my blood sugar was dropping and I was running low on the snacks I had brought with me. I told Hannah and Kaitlyn I would lead us out of the alley and try to get us back to our car. About two or three other people joined us. As we were leaving the alley, a car pulled up next to us and asked if we wanted a ride. We said yes. We all squeezed into her car, and I was sitting on a man’s lap in the passenger seat, my bag on the floor at our feet. I thought we were getting out of there.

A cop stood in front of the car before we could even start driving.

She ordered the driver to put her car in park and turn it off. We tried telling the cop we were leaving, but she didn’t listen. Another cop came over and opened the passenger side door, and I stumbled out of the car before being forced to my knees with my hands up.

@zestazpt 2 this is right before we were arrested. the girl in the flannel was asking for her bag with her medical equipment.♬ original sound – zestaz


Only when I was sitting on the curb with the other people who had been in the car with me did I realize my bag was still on the floor of the car. From my position on the curb, I could not see my bag and a cop was also partially blocking my view of the car. My blood sugar was already dropping, and I knew with the adrenaline in my system that it would continue to do so unless I acted on it. Before leaving the alley, I had taken a granola bar from my sister’s bag, and I still had it in my hand when I was moved to the curb. The officer demanded to know what was in my hand, and I told him it was a granola bar and that I was diabetic and needed to eat. Miraculously, he let me eat it. As I ate, I told him that I needed my bag near me, so I wouldn’t lose track of it. Insulin is expensive, and I had a mostly full bottle in there, as well as other expensive supplies.

I use a type of insulin pump called an OmniPod. It’s wireless, but has a three day battery, so I have to change it every three days. It just so happened that June 1 was the third day. I knew there was a good chance I would be doing a site change in custody, and I needed my bag to do so. Nothing I said seemed to change the cop’s mind about giving me my bag, and it wasn’t until I was cuffed with zip ties, that they brought my bag over and searched it in front of me.

A group of about 40 of us was then piled onto a city bus, and I was vocal about staying with my bag and Hannah and Kaitlyn. The police let us all keep our phones, so I was able to monitor my sugar with my Dexcom. After being held for nearly four hours, doing a site change under a bridge and my blood sugar rising to the high 300s, we were released. A video of my interaction with the police was posted on TikTok and quickly took off. It has since been featured on NowThis,

Interactions like my own don’t just affect people with diabetes, but people with any kind of disability or chronic illness. Asthmatics could be refused their inhalers; people with mental illness like depression or even schizophrenia could be denied their medication. It never stops. People with disabilities and chronic illnesses are routinely mistreated in police custody, and up to half of the people killed by police in the U.S. are disabled.

A simple google search of “diabetic dies in police custody” or “mistreatment of people with disabilities in custody” yields thousands of results. As it stands, disabled people of color are more likely to have tragic outcomes when interacting with the police. From an article on Vice called, “Disability is a hidden side of the police violence epidemic“:

Ethan Saylor, killed in a chokehold in 2013, had Down syndrome. Sandra Bland, who died in custody in 2015, had epilepsy. Kajieme Powell, killed just days before Michael Brown in 2014, had schizophrenia. John T. Williams, a deaf Native American woodcarver, was killed in Seattle in 2010. Eric Garner, who died in a chokehold in 2014, had asthma. Daniel Harris, killed by a North Carolina state trooper this year, was deaf.

This needs to change.

While I am not an expert in protesting, I am an expert in diabetes, and I have some tips for people with diabetes and people with chronic illness who want to protest.

  • Always have a medical ID. I have a slip on my Apple Watch band from MyID that I wear, and while I was protesting I wrote type one diabetic on my arm in sharpie.
  • People with type one should also make it clear they are insulin dependent, either with a medical ID or by writing it on their arms.
  • I labeled my bag as a medical bag while I was protesting by sticking some tape on the front of it and writing “medical bag.”
  • I wore a mask for as long as I could, and was careful to avoid touching other people.
  • I recommend bringing hand sanitizer with you if you go out and protest.
  • I also lowered my basal rates while I was out, because I know adrenaline makes my blood sugar drop. I urge people with diabetes and other disabilities and chronic illnesses to be aware of how adrenaline affects your condition.
  • Be vocal about your disabilities or illnesses, especially if you are arrested. Do not like the officers silence you and record everything. I’m so grateful the people around me were recording.

More protesting tips: 6 COVID-19 Precautions You Can Take While Protesting

If you feel safe protesting and want to do so, I encourage it as long as you are careful, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Protesting isn’t the end all, be all, though; you can also support the Black Lives Matter movement by signing petitions and donating to bail funds and charities.

As traumatic as the situation was for me, it’s important to remember that people of color have it so much worse. My experience does not hold a candle to what people of color experience every single day. Their voices need to be heard.


Screenshot via @zestaz on TikTok.

Originally published: June 4, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home