President Wayne Riley's Message About George Floyd's Killing and the Nationwide Protests

By Office of Communications & Marketing | May 28, 2020

MEDIA CONTACT: John Gillespie | | (314) 708-9090

Once again, a shocking video has replayed a storyline while headlines around the country blare the news of an unarmed Black man dying in police custody. The death of George Floyd has stoked widespread anger and fear. Amid a global pandemic where nearly 103,000 people—an inordinately high number of whom are Black and Brown—have died of the coronavirus in the United States—we also experience a familiar set of circumstances—yet another black man killed by a white police officer.

Following the recent killings of Ahmaud Arberry in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, the heinous act causing the death of Mr. Floyd deepens an already festering wound in black communities, stokes fear and encourages anger. It widens a growing racial breach in our nation.

Our hearts go out to the Floyd family and the families of other victims from such senseless deaths. We extend our support to the people of Minneapolis and cities around the nation who stand in peaceful protest against the inhumane and racist treatment of black men at the hands of some members of law enforcement.

Protesting is every American citizen’s right and privilege. However, to contextualize what we are witnessing here in Brooklyn and around the nation, in 1967 in his “The Other America” speech at Stanford University, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said presciently, “…a riot is the language of the unheard.”

It is natural to experience rage, deep anger, and strong feelings when such incidents occur. However, we do not condone damage to property and looting that often accompanies widespread protests. These actions only detract from the goal of peace, solidarity, and, most of all, equity for all, and do little to memorialize Mr. Floyd's life.

Even as President of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, my status as a Black man in America does not insulate me from acts of racism. Despite four earned degrees, including one from an Ivy League institution, I have experienced doctoring while black, driving while black, studying while black, dining while black, shopping while black, house hunting while black, golfing while black, walking while black, and many other microaggressions. No, I, and others like me, are NOT immune—we are still black men and women in America. Too often, many see only the color of our skin and nothing else.

Unbelievably, we saw a very real example played out on live television yesterday, where a young black Latino reporter with CNN, Omar Jimenez, was arrested without cause even after presenting his press credentials and being cooperative with law enforcement. We can only assume the reason for his arrest was the color of his skin, as his white CNN colleague reporting in the same area at the same time shared that his experience differed from Jimenez’s. This type of incident is maddening in the extreme.

In our society, Black men fear for their lives more than any other ethnic group. It is unnatural that women live in fear that their Black sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and other men in their lives may not return every time they leave the safety of their homes. They pray to God that they do not have encounters with police officers.

As an institution of higher learning within the SUNY system, Downstate is committed to providing students, staff, and our community with continued opportunities for dialogue and solution-driven options to fight racism and other social ills plaguing our society, our nation, and the world.

We must take a stand against hate, violence, and willful ignorance and do our part to resist racism, oppression, and senseless brutality.

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University remains committed to diversity and inclusive excellence. We are all responsible for justice and supporting each other positively as we begin to heal from the hate and destruction while also recovering from the pandemic.

As a healthcare institution in Brooklyn, where 34 percent of its population identifies as black, we provide care to any of the borough’s 2.6 million residents who come to the University Hospital of Brooklyn. A significant number of our faculty, student, staff, and primarily our patients at the University Hospital of Brooklyn, are people of color.

Any individual who believes they have experienced discrimination should immediately contact our Office of Diversity and Inclusion at (718) 270-1738. You may also email ODI at All calls and emails are kept confidential.

If you are having difficulty with this incident and would like some additional resources, please contact the Employee Assistance Program at (718) 270-1489, or email Magda Alliancin, Ed.D. at All calls and emails are kept confidential.

You may also reach out to the Office of Student Life & Services at (718) 270-2187 or email All calls and emails are kept confidential.

Thank you for all you do to make SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University an inclusive environment where all are respected and appreciated.


About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care, and is a 342-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of New York City, and Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital of Brooklyn (UHB) is Downstate’s teaching hospital, backed by the expertise of an outstanding medical school and the research facilities of a world-class academic center. More than 800 physicians, representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate's staff.

A regional center for cardiac care, neonatal and high-risk infant services, pediatric dialysis, and transplantation, Downstate also houses a major learning center for children with physical ailments or neurological disorders. In addition to UHB, Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter at @sunydownstate.