Racism and Police Brutality Are Public Health Issues, Medical Professionals Say

In light of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the nationwide demonstrations against anti-black police brutality, medical professionals and people invested in public health have come out to condemn racist policing as a public health crisis in the United States and to encourage healthcare providers to consider their role in the larger system.

Racism is a public health issue. The AAP condemns violence, especially when perpetrated by authorities, and calls for a deep examination of how to improve the role of policing,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said in a statement on Twitter alongside their research on the affects of racism on child and adolescent health. “Systemic violence requires systemic response.”

This message came on the heels of a joint statement released on Friday from American Medical Association’s Board Chair Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld and President Dr. Patrice Harrisinsisting that “police brutality must stop.”

AMA policy recognizes that physical or verbal violence between law enforcement officers and the public, particularly among Black and Brown communities where these incidents are more prevalent and pervasive, is a critical determinant of health and supports research into the public health consequences of these violent interactions,” the statement reads. “Recognizing that many who serve in law enforcement are committed to justice, the violence inflicted by police in news headlines today must be understood in relation to larger social and economic arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way leading to premature illness and death.”

The statement goes on to share that the systemic, intersecting obstacles of racism in the United States “’saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources,’ as described by leading health equity expert Camara Jones, MD, MPH, PhD. Importantly, racism is detrimental to health in all its forms.”

Citing statistics that finds that Black men are three times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than white men and that Latinx individuals made up for 30 percent of arrests and 23 percent of searches despite only making up roughly 18 percent of the population, they also note that “an increased prevalence of police encounters is linked to elevated stress and anxiety levels, along with increased rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma—and fatal complications of those comorbid conditions.”

They note that racism and particularly cases of police killing unarmed Black people also wreaks havoc on the mental health of Black individuals — whether they are personally related to or acquainted with a victim or not.

“The trauma of violence in a person’s life course is associated with chronic stress, higher rates of comorbidities and lower life expectancy, all of which bear extensive care and economic burden on our healthcare system while sapping the strength of affected families and communities,” they write.

Further, the statement includes recommendations for health organizations for handling police brutality and racism:

“We urge states to require the reporting of legal intervention deaths and law enforcement officer homicides to public health agencies. We urge health institutions and physician organizations to explicitly denounce police violence, particularly in times of COVID-19 and during other public health crises. We urge clinics, hospital and healthcare providers to review and reconsider their policies and relationships with law enforcement that may increase harm to patients and patient communities. We call for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and other such parties to study the public health effects of physical and verbal violence between law enforcement officers and public citizens, particularly within racially marginalized communities. We call for uniform training, transparency in reporting and accountability by law enforcement”

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