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Police Violence Is a Public Health Issue

January 16, 2017

 

Brutality and shootings by police are now getting more attention than ever, but police violence has been all too common for too long. Coverage in social media and even the mainstream press has greatly expanded, particularly for typically marginalized communities such as transgender people and people of color, as offenses are increasingly filmed or photographed, shared, and protested, often through the organizing of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hesperian staff showing solidarity at the 2015 MLK Day march.

Hesperian staff showing solidarity at the 2015 MLK Day march.

This attention is bringing police violence to the forefront of public discussion, including that of health workers, academics, and public health authorities who insist that state violence is a public health issue that must be dealt with. The American Public Health Association (APHA) recently stated, “Public safety is essential for public health. However…US policing has failed to deliver safety, placing an inequitable burden of harm on some communities, particularly communities of color.”

Many new groups are forming to address systemic racism and state violence from a broad perspective, joining civil rights and prisoners rights activists, public health professionals, harm reductionists, and academics in the struggle for fairer and safer justice system. Groups like the Do No Harm Coalition and Occupy Public Health provide a way for people working in public health to fight institutional violence using the tools of public health.

Medical professionals have long fought against racism and for civil rights — the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) was formed in 1964 to provide medical care to civil rights protesters, and to support the civil rights movement as health professionals. As described in The Good Doctors, they brought health clinics to low-income areas in cities, desegregated Southern hospitals, and provided emergency care at civil rights protests.

State violence against marginalized communities –people of color, LGBT, sex workers, the homeless– is not just a violation of civil rights, it’s a threat to public health. Get involved and help end the violence.