Yolonda King, eldest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, speaks to media and supporters. Photo: Charlene Muhammad

LOS ANGELES ( – The county’s plan to shut down South L.A.’s Martin Luther King, Jr./Charles R. Drew Medical Center’s Trauma Unit was rejected Nov. 15 by approximately 4,000 demonstrators outside the King/Drew Magnet High School Auditorium, where the county Board of Supervisors held a mandatory public hearing to discuss the proposed closure.

Many protesters listened to the hearing on loud speakers, while clamoring outside glass double doors for entrance.

“The efforts of Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Black leaders show that there are some things that are bigger than egos, and to see that is a treat,” said Western Regional Minister Tony Muhammad. “As a result, we hope that it brings more light, and I pray that the effort causes the supervisors to recant the vote to close it.”


Congresswoman Waters was backed by residents, activists, clergy, federal, state and local politicians and entertainers, including Dr. King’s oldest daughter, Yolanda King, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and actresses Angela Bassett and Phyllis Yvonne Stickney.

Once inside, before over 350 people, Congresswoman Waters made the case for King/Drew.

“We just absolutely oppose the closure of this trauma center. It is not that we’re simply emotional about this, we’ve examined the reasons that are given by Mr. Garthwaite,” she stated, referring to Department of Health Services’ Chief Operating Officer Thomas Garthwaite.

She also charged that the board violated state law when, in a 5-0 vote in September, it adopted a proposal to close the trauma center. The Bielenson Act requires a public hearing before any county decisions are made on closing, transferring or leasing any hospital services.

Dr. Garthwaite incited lengthy booing when he reiterated that his recommendation for closure stems from a lack of funding and inadequate staffing. He assured that the emergency room would still be available to residents, but trauma victims would be routed to other facilities, including downtown’s California Hospital Medical Center, which may begin operating its new trauma center in early December.

Ms. King addressed the hospital’s birth as a result of the 1960s Watts civil unrest, and reminded those listening that King/Drew broke ground six days after her father was assassinated.

“I feel lifted up because, as I walk through the crowd of thousands outside, I am confident that they will hold you accountable, as they did the county supervisors of the past, to do right by this community,” Ms. King told the supervisors.

“Why are people screaming like this?” Rev. Jackson questioned. “Most of these folks don’t have insurance. They’re scared. Their babies are dying. They’re scared. They made AK-47 UZI’s legal again. They’re scared,” he went on.

He urged the board to postpone their vote and to continue dialogue with community leaders, but Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky indicated that the closing was imminent.

The supervisors extended the hearing for one day to accommodate all comments, but rendered no vote.

Ms. Bassett stated that, by God’s grace and through the King/Drew trauma center, a critically ill friend survived.

“What’s the rationale, what’s the reasoning to close a place that for near on 40 years has provided excellent care, above and beyond excellent care? It’s an outrage,” she charged. “But we see you, and we’re here to protest and stop it in its tracks.”

“Today is an important day that these number of us came out to support the saving of our lives, because basically we know it’s beyond politics, it’s beyond religion, it is part of the genocide of our people,” stated Ms. Stickney.

The King/Drew conflict heightened following an onslaught of negative L.A. Times articles magnifying faulty procedures, care and staffing problems, including death by negligence.

But King/Drew medical staff and the community countered that the errors were a result of the County’s move to eliminate its full nursing staff. They also maintained, that, though unfortunate, the medical errors were no different than those occurring at all of L.A.’s county health facilities.

They wonder how a trauma unit that once selected to train United States Army medics, because it operated under daily combat-zone conditions, could now be rendered a poor facility with untrained doctors.

“You’re dealing with the number one trauma center that deals with gunshot victims, and there’s a lot of shooting among our youth who are involved in gang violence. To now divert the ambulance from a location where that takes place is dangerous,” Min. Tony pointed out.