Prejudice Kills a Homeless Woman

The national tendency to blame the homeless for their plight collided with the war on drugs to kill an innocent woman near St. Louis last September. 29-year-old Anna Brown, a homeless mother of two, went to the hospital seeking treatment for a sprained ankle and leg pain. After doctors dismissed her complaints and she refused to leave without treatment, Richmond Heights, Missouri police arrested and jailed her for trespassing at the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, she was dead of a blood clot that originated in her painful leg and traveled to her lungs.

Assuming that she was trying to scam drugs from the hospital, the police treated Ms. Brown like a criminal. They hoisted her from their car into the police station because the pain in her legs prevented her from walking. When they put her in the jail cell where she would die, they laid her on the concrete floor — right between two empty beds. Her ordeal from the hospital to the police car to the jail cell was captured on surveillance videos.

Ms. Brown was not a drug addict: according to the International Business Times, the autopsy revealed that she had no drugs in her system when she sought medical help.

Ms. Brown was also not lazy or a freeloader. She and her two children lost their home to a tornado, according to The Washington Post. Then Ms. Brown lost her job. Poverty eroded her family’s standard of living to the point that the government placed her children with Ms. Brown’s mother, and Ms. Brown herself became homeless.

Anna Brown represents a significant portion of our country’s homeless population: families that include adults willing to work but unable to find jobs that pay enough to support them and their children. Families with children are 41% of the homeless population. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “declining wages have put housing out of reach for many families.” Even families with working parents can’t always afford housing.

Under fire for Ms. Brown’s death, the local police protest that they deferred to medical professionals’ determination that Ms. Brown was healthy enough to be arrested and jailed. The medical professionals who made that determination protest that in some cases blood clots cannot be detected and that Ms. Brown did not appear to have any, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. No one seems to have explained why they did not treat the visible swelling in Ms. Brown’s ankle, which corroborated her complaints of pain.

But this was not a case of a poor person being denied any medical care. The Washington Post reported that medical professionals examined Ms. Brown and performed ultrasounds on both of her legs.

It is the hospital’s refusal to take her complaints of pain seriously and the police officers’ willingness to arrest her for trespassing at the hospital, both based on the assumption that she was an addict seeking drugs, that reflect common assumptions about poor people and that led directly to her death. As Ms. Brown’s sister Krystle said, “My sister is not here today because people passed judgment.”

Richmond Heights Mayor James Beck is expected to discuss the tragedy at a city council meeting tonight. You can express your concerns about the case to the Mayor here.

Related Stories:

Growing Homelessness Among Children, Says 60 Minutes

The Global War on Drugs Has Failed, Leaders Say

Staggering 38% Increase in Child Homelessness in the United States (VIDEO)


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

So sad. A young woman, down on her luck, died, because many people made assumptions about her worthlessness as a human being. A real tragedy.

Robert Tedders
Robert T7 years ago


Lin Moy
Lin M7 years ago

Hospitals just don't care anymore. This happens to insured people also to the point drs say you are fine to send you home to drop dead. Her parents should have helped her more. Wouldn't send my child out on the street like that. Such a shame.

Jeanne M.
Jeanne M7 years ago

She didn't appear to have any blood clots? Well, they certainly can't be detected if instead of doing a proper examination and treatment, you turn the poor woman over to the police. It's a damned disgrace, with plenty of blame to go around.

Nicole Pauline Sedkowski
Nicole Sedkowski7 years ago

These kinds of cases make me feel sick and angry! The people responsible should be fired immidiately!

Aside from that I feel that I have to ask, why could she not stay with her mother, who clearly had a home (it wouldn't take all that much effort to set her up in the living room or even the basement). Or perhaps the sister whose house situation was albeit unclear.

When I lost my home I lived in my mom's living room for a year until I got a new place. My mom's appartment isn't big but she would never turn me away even if she were housing ten other people!

Either way I hope the people responsible for her death were prepared to relay the news to her children.

Donna O.
Donna O7 years ago

They gave her an expensive MRI but didn't bother to get a cheap blood test to check for drugs before passing the "poor and homeless means she's a druggie" decision. I sure hope I never visit a hospital with doctors, nurses and other "professionals" this stupid.

lis Gunn
lis Gunn7 years ago

What a tragedy! That anyone could be treated so poorly by the health professionals and the police. Yes, America has an outstanding medical reputation but at what cost. This in the land of the free and home of the brave as someone else said. Suspicion, fear and money are the appalling motives behind this woman's death. Hardly an endorsement of a civilised society.

Steve T.
Steve T.7 years ago

Bureaucracy, corruption and profiling at it's finest.

Christy Elamma
Christy Elamma7 years ago

Far too many things like this happening all across the country. It is deplorable. The hospital staff showed how little empathy and compassion they have for people. If she had been a 'paying' customer with insurance, I'm sure they would have hospitalized her and run all kinds of tests, because all the health care system in this country is after is money. And the police? I don't even want to go there with what I think about police these days- none of it is good.

Stanley Balgobin
Stanley R7 years ago

This is America, the land of the free AND HOME OF THE BRAVE. Just vote for the GOP, then we got a totalitarian police State. There are many cases like this increasing in the USA. The lack of accountability and transparency across the board has resulted in crime with impunity commitment by the authorities. It's like the voting American public are dumb or something, they continue to vote Conservative. A vote for the Repugliscum is insanity, don't you get it?