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UNC medical students stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement

For first-year medical student Savion Johnson, recent incidents in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island are not isolated events — they are evidence of a national public health crisis.

"This is a world problem, this is a national problem, this is a community problem," he said.

"This is a Carolina problem."

Holding a sign that read "I am a man," Johnson was among 70 UNC School of Medicine and healthcare students who protested the decision not to indict police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases Wednesday. 

Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. in August. A St. Louis County grand jury later decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson, which spurred hundreds of protests across the country. 

Earlier this month, a grand jury in New York did not to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death in July.

Wednesday's die-in at the medical school was part of the nationwide demonstrations calling for police reform.

"It was a way for us as medical students to be in solidarity with the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown," he said. 

Medical schools across the country collaborated on the die-in. More than 1,800 medical students from 50 schools participated in the protest.

UNC's protest was organized by first-year medical students Celeste Brown, Anthony McClenny, Sabrina Magat and Rakhee Devasthali. 

"As individuals in the medical and healthcare community, we cannot ignore these events," Brown said.

Brown said support for the movement was tremendous — organizers received advice on the logistics of the event from administrators at the School of Medicine. 

During the demonstration, she emphasized the role the medical community must play to better the lives of their patients. 

"We are white coats for black lives," Magat said, before the four organizers led the group of protestors in a chant of "We can't breathe" — a tribute to Garner's last words. 

Following the chant, the protestors then lay on the floor for four and a half minutes to symbolize the four and a half hours Brown's body lay in the street following his death. 

The event ended with the protestors chanting "black lives matter" as they left the building. 

For first-year medical student Jenay Powell, participating in the protest came down to a simple truth — black lives matter.

She said despite the progress the country believes it has made, there are still blatant racial biases that exist to this day. 

"As a black woman in healthcare, it is part of my responsibility to do my part in breaking down those (racial) barriers and bringing awareness to national issues like these," Powell said. 

"I think the way we have historically treated black people — and black males in particular — (the decisions not to indict) certainly did not surprise me."

Johnson made a point of acknowledging how important it is for the healthcare community to be involved in this movement. 

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"If you're not willing to fight for the population you're going to treat or care about the issues that are plaguing them, you're going to be ineffective as a physician and healthcare professional.

"It's as simple as that."