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April 1, 2012

Surveilling the Death of Anna Brown

Image002Anna Brown is dying.

Last September, Anna Brown, a 29 year old homeless black woman, went to three hospital emergency rooms complaining of pain in her legs. At the last one, St. Mary’s, she refused to leave without getting treatment. The hospital had her arrested.


Hospital surveillance cameras show her in a wheelchair and dropped to the ground by arresting officers.


Police car surveillance cameras show Brown in the back of the police car telling officers she was unable to get out of the car without a wheelchair. Jailhouse surveillance cameras show officers carrying her into a jail cell and placing her on the floor. Fifteen minutes later, Brown died of blood clots that migrated from her injured leg to her lungs.


After her death, the jailhouse surveillance camera show the local fire chief and an officer discussing the fact that Brown “could very well” have been a “drug seeker.” No drugs were found in her system.


Race, health care, and surveillance culture come simultaneously into play here. That the healthcare system can be reckoned as something other than a force for good is balanced by the good of a typical “evil”: surveillance. Without surveillance film, it’s possible the death of this young woman would have gone unnoticed.

But surveillance cameras from a few different places, perhaps like police video capturing the physical condition of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, cast a grainy yet objective eye to events. And yes, the images beg racial questions: if Anna Brown wasn’t black, if she wasn’t perceived as a “drug seeker,” if she weren’t homeless, would she have died on the floor of a jail cell because a hospital didn’t want to deal with her? All the authority figures shown were white males.

Whatever the answer to these questions (and as much controversy as there is surrounding CCTV), rest assured that in the future, we will increasingly witness via surveillance.

– Karen Hull

Full video here. Backstory via MSNBC.

  • SteveLaudig

    Scalia, Thomas, Alioto and Roberts are concerned about her freedom to not have health care. As are libertarians and the Federalist Society.

  • Stan B.

    They’re passing/trying to pass laws where women seeking abortions must see sonograms, listen to heartbeats, etc. How about a law that stipulates any conversation regarding healthcare must commence with the viewing of these videos…

  • Kailuahale

    Thank you for this.  It is against the law for emergency rooms to turn people away because of inability to pay.  Interesting how surveillance cameras can become our conscience – only if they are used to bring light to these injustices.

  • Marie

    I know that such cruelty and callousness exits in the world, but it breaks my heart all over again, every time I am confronted with it. This poor child was just looking for help, and she gets to die on a concrete floor? (Why did they not at least put her on the bed instead of the floor?)   While I, with comprehensive health insurance and less melanin, had similar scary pain after hours, went to my local ER, and spent 8 hours of having tests run on me because they thought it might be (among other things) a blood clot. AND because I had comprehensive health insurance, I didn’t have to pay for the entire $7500+ out of pocket. AND I had the luxury of assuming that the people caring for me weren’t saying insulting things behind my back, or to my face, for that matter.  
    Before anybody gets huffy about “free” health care, you should know that my family has contributed an estimated 30 thousand in premiums over the last 12 years.  You’d think with the premium/contributions we pay, *everybody* could get ER attention when they needed it, and they often/sometimes/usually do. But not in Anna Brown’s case. WHY NOT? True, ER staff are horribly stressed and overworked, yes, even in my mid-sized city. But sudden severe pain in the legs screams “blood clot” even to me, regardless of the color of the skin and the status of the patient. There’s triage, and there’s callousness. Can you imagine running around a city trying to find a place open and willing to evaluate and treat something scary? I can. It’s frightening. Thank you for including an image of Ms. Brown’s face. We need to see her as more than a body in pain.The images evoke the countless other surveillance images of less-valued people dying by neglect and indifference, if not sheer malice.  Rest homes, prisons, holding cells, hospital waiting rooms, the back seat of police cars… wherever it is we “stuff” people who are challenging to deal with.  The light is cold – it looks harsh and impersonal. Do we feel less empathy because of the harsh light?  They look stark and impartial, too. Do we feel we can really see what’s going on? They’re subject to the same misinterpretations as any other images.  I’ve come to associate surveillance photos with a feeling of dread, because what good does one ever see? They are always catching that which someone doesn’t want seen, and it’s usually ugly and awful, if not merely mundane.  

  • LanceThruster

    I know what that screaming in pain part was about. Not too long ago, I went to the emergency room for what turned out to be a kidney stone.

    The first 3 hours on the gurney, the pain went from a 5 or 6 to a 7 (10 being the highest). The last 45 minutes it went from a 7 to an 8 or 9. I wanted them to knock me out and could not control my involuntary thrashing.

    Btw, my black co-worker friend said I should have started screaming within the first 3 hours as soon as the pain started to escalate.

    As a middle aged white man, I couldn’t help agreeing with her and felt that probably would have helped me get quicker attention (despite the fact that they said the delay was because of a gunshot wound victim).

  • Pete Brook

    Thank you for this important post Karen. Unfortunately this case is similar to a 2009 death in custody. That of Cayne Micelli in New Orleans – – her distress and consequent demands were interpreted as instability and threat by the NOLA deputies and she died in a five point restraint. Neglect and only neglect.

  • Pingback: Karen Hull on the Death of Anna Brown « Prison Photography

  • Thewomankindparty

    Thank you for this article.  Though I’ve already spoken about Anna Brown on my woman-centered Web Wanderings pages, I’ve seen little response to her death.  Why is that?

  • Antheafonas

    No one coming to an ER should be ignored or overlooked, especially those who ’seemingly’ are drug seekers.  They are the ones who have to be closely monitored with vigilance… never know, thats the time that the wolf might really be coming.  No big deal in doing a doppler, leg x-ray to rule out or confirm one’s position, before dismissing the complalint as a hoax.

  • Princeofsoul

    It would be appropriate if the FBI became the lead agency for this (murder) case. 1. The doctor(s) and nurse(s) hospital personnel file must be looked at: discipline, training, complaints. 2. Hours worked that day. 3. whereabouts prior coming to work. 3. Credit card purchases. 4. Personal medical history file (prescriptions). 4. Home and job computer / phone forensics. 5. Religion and clubs belong to.
    The police officers should have called for a supervisor to respond to the hospital. No need to rush. Gather the facts before you react. Big mistake by the police officers. Could be charged with murder. It sounds like these doctor(s), nurse(s) and police officers stereotype / profiled this woman by guessing and not following guidelines. The only way to stop this behavior is sending all parties involved to prison and the biggest lawsuit in history.     

  • tloyolo

    what happened in this case??

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