Who was Samwel Uko? Canadian college athlete refused care ‘because he was Black'
Racism has serious implications, not just in the US but around the globe. Black people aren't just treated differently, sometimes they aren't treated at all as one heartbreaking story from Canada shows. On May 31, 2020, Canadian college athlete Samwel Uko died by suicide after being denied treatment, despite begging for help at a hospital in Regina. Now, his family has opened up about the incident, revealing the subsequent lawsuit and settlement as a result of the hospital's actions.
The Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd's death was supposed to be a watershed moment for civil rights, but in the year since, Black people continue to be treated differently, often leading to deadly consequences. In June, a Black delivery man was harassed by a White man in an affluent San Fransisco neighborhood and recorded his ordeal on Instagram. In late June, a Florida immigration officer was caught telling a Black teen "you don't belong here". Sometimes, racism goes even further, as seen in the killings of Duante Wright and Isaiah Brown.
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The deaths have repeatedly sparked calls for change, but little actually has since Floyd's brutal killing in Minneapolis. The high-profile killings in the US also tend to dominate headlines, leaving other stories out of the press. One of those was that of Uko, whose death has largely gone under the radar. On July 6, Uko's family opened up about their ordeal to The Daily Beast, recounting how racism snatched away the young man from their lives.
Who was Samwel Uko?
Uko and his family came to Canada from Sudan in 2005 as refugees. They settled in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he attended Abbotsford Secondary School. He was studying at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. While at uni, he represented the Huskies football team as a running back. Data from the Huskies show he played in the 2018 season. It is believed he also played for the Abbotsford Panthers while in high school. Little else is know about Uko, beyond his tragic death.
At the time of the incident leading to his death, Uko was in Regina visiting family. On May 21, he visited the Regina General Hospital with complaints of difficultly sleeping, chronic pain, and depression linked to a past car accident. According to hospital documents, he was cleared to go home with medication, and a referral to a mental health clinic. "I need help bro, I need help bro, for real," he said in a Snapchat video posted at the time.
Later in the afternoon, he was taken back to the hospital by police after he dialed 911 seeking help. The police escorted Uko to the hospital and left shortly after nurses arrived and took over. Surveillance footage shows security escorting him out of the hospital, as Uko screams for help. "No, no, leave me. Leave me alone! I said… I have mental issues! No, no, please, help," he can be heard screaming. It is unclear why Uko was pushed out, the hospital claims he refused to give nurses his name.
Later that evening, Uko died by suicide at the nearby Wascana Lake. His body was recovered in the late evening by search and rescue. "My son needed help. To kick my son out of the hospital? I don't know what happened," Uko's mother Joice Bakando told the Beast. "They didn’t care. Because it’s Black people," she added. It took two months for the hospital to issue a formal apology, with Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone saying too much time was spent trying to identify Uko and not enough attention was given to the care he required.
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Following the apology in June 2020, the family filed a civil lawsuit against the SHA. In its statement of defense, the SHA acknowledges "the SHA admits that it failed to meet the standard of care." The family sought punitive damages and future financial support under the Fatal Accidents Act. In the claim, the family does not specifically list out Uko's race as a factor, but his family appears to believe it played a critical factor. "If someone had a different skin tone and they were sitting there, they would have helped. It’s not something we want to debate, or talk about, it’s just reality," Uko's uncle Justin Nyee said.
Court documents recently show the SHA settled with the family for $81,357 in damages. However, that isn't the end of the matter. Beginning on September 20, a coroner's inquest will begin to understand the situation further, and the role of the hospital in his death. It is a development the family is looking forward to. "This will help us get more into details and getting the facts out and know what exactly happened," Nyee said.