On July 14th, 1970, the Young Lords occupied Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York, in response to the grave injustices occurring at the hospital that had been plaguing their community for quite some time. The Young Lords were a revolutionary organization founded in Chicago, Illinois by Jose “Cha-Cha” Jimenez and modeled after the Black Panther Party (BPP). The organization was composed largely of Puerto Ricans, but it also included a large amount of Black people in its membership. The organization was originally formed to be a street gang, but after reading the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and learning about the BPP while in prison, Cha Cha Jimenez organized the gang into one of the most pivotal political organizations of the Black power movement. In February 1969, Jimenez and the Young Lords met with Chairman Fred Hampton and the Chicago chapter of the BPP. This meeting turned out to be a huge turning point for the organization. Following the meeting, the Young Lords adopted the BPP model of organizing, its Ten-Point Program, and formed an organizing alliance that would last for years to come.
Prior to occupying Lincoln Hospital, members of the Young Lords, BPP, workers at Lincoln, and patients set up a complaint table in the hospital. They received over 2,000 complaints that detailed lead poisoning, rat bites, drug addiction, not being treated in emergencies, and many others. The administration of the hospital did nothing to act on the more than 2,000 complaints. This led to the Young Lords being inspired to take over the hospital.
At 3:30 A.M. on July 14th, members of the Young Lords assembled in a U-Haul truck, making a space between themselves so that everyone could fit. Felipe Luciano, chairman of the New York chapter, compared their heroic act to the “paratroop assault” in the documentary “Dope is Death,” which details the Young Lords and BPP’s efforts to end heroin addiction with acupuncture in black and brown communities. Immediately following the militant activists securing the exits and entrances, they explained the reasoning for them occupying the hospital to everyone inside. Sid Davidoff, administrative assistant to the mayor of New York City and chief negotiator, claims that the police had to draw the line and put an end to the occupation because of the patients not being able to be treated. Cleo Silvers, Lincoln Hospital Mental Health Worker and Veteran BPP member, shot down this claim by Davidoff by stating “Don’t let anybody tell you that there was 1 minute of disruption of the delivery of healthcare at Lincoln Hospital when the Young Lords took it over. Never.” Other people who were there at the time of this heroic act attest to this fact and state that workers and patients were allowed access to the building just as on any other day.
In preparation of the occupation, the Young Lords knew that the already under-funded Lincoln Hospital would be even more defunded by the city council soon. To bring Lincoln Hospital’s various problems and underfunding to public discourse, the Young Lords listed this set of demands:
1. No cutbacks in service or jobs, specifically Section K screening clinic, the Emergency Room, of translators, doctors, or any other personnel.
2. We want an immediate funds from the NYC Health Services Administration to complete the building of and fully staff the new Lincoln Hospital.
3. Door-to-door health services for preventative care emphasizing environment and sanitation control, nutrition, drug addiction, maternal and childcare, and senior citizen services.
1. We want a permanent 24 hour-a-day grievance table staffed by patients and workers with the power to redress grievances.
2. We want $140.00 a week minimum wage for all workers.
3. We want a day care center for patients and workers at Lincoln Hospital.
4. We want self determination of all health services through a community-worker board to operate Lincoln Hospital. This group of people must have shown their commitment to sincerely serve the people of this community.
The Young Lords’ amazing act brought light to the injustices and mistreatment that were occurring at Lincoln Hospital. Their organizing efforts led to the funding of a detox program that used acupuncture to treat heroin addiction. Current political prisoner Mutulu Shakur led this program and was the first acupuncture drug treatment center in the country. Their efforts also included drafting the Lincoln Hospital’s first Patient Bill of Rights, which was ahead of its time and has been adopted in various ways by hospitals across the country. Johanna Fernandez, author of “The Young Lords: A Radical History,” describes the Patient Bill of Rights in her book, detailing the Young Lords’ history by stating:
“Part of what was remarkable about this list was its prescience. It significantly advanced the standards and ethics of patient care and patient rights in public discourse and helped enshrine concepts such as patient dignity, full disclosure and explanation of medical treatment and prescriptions and their side effects, and the right of the patient to refuse treatment. At the same time, it anticipated, in its call for free healthcare, what remains one of the most contentious debates about public health.”
Throughout their history as an organization, the Young Lords created an organizing legacy that activists and organizers will learn from for years to come through their occupation of Lincoln Hospital, drafting of the Patient Bill of Rights, securing funding for the detox program, their work alongside Chairman Fred Hampton with the Rainbow Coalition, and many other things. It is important to note that teens and young people in their early twenties made up the majority of these organizations’ memberships and were leading these revolutionary actions. Their legacy is a blueprint for what needs to be done in our fight for Black and brown liberation. Fifty-one years after their heroic occupation of Lincoln Hospital, it is our job to pick up the baton and join or create revolutionary organizations that will fight for Black and brown liberation, just as the Young Lords and Black Panther Party sought out to do.
By Matt Hatchett
Donovan, Mia, director. Dope Is Death. Eye Steel Film , 2020.
“July 14, 1970: Young Lords Occupy Lincoln Hospital.” Zinn Education Project, 15 July 2020, www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/young-lords.
Young Lords: a Radical History, by Johanna Fernandez, University of North Carolina Press, 2020, p. 299.