America’s Biggest Public Health Threat

Framing racism as a public health crisis isn’t a new phenomenon. But in recent days, it’s weaved its way into the mainstream as two forces particularly damaging to Black Americans have converged: the coronavirus pandemic and police violence. 

Large scale protests popped up nationwide after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. And many folks are beginning to realize that the root cause of why Black Americans are more likely to die during an encounter with the police is the same reason we’re more susceptible to adverse outcomes, or death, if we contract the novel coronavirus. It’s why Black folks are encumbered with generational trauma and weathered bodies while our communities experience spiked rates of comorbidities, infant and maternal mortality. The psychological impact is equally staggering

I explained why this is the current state of our medical ecosystem a few weeks ago:

Poor health outcomes were treated as a deficiency inherent to Black people instead of the result of economic disparity, poor housing, abhorrent work conditions, and extreme levels of stress. Clinical beliefs formulated during enslavement are why physicians still believe that Black patients are more difficult to deal with, feel less pain, have thicker skin, or exaggerate symptoms—beliefs that provided a convenient excuse for the continuation of enslavement. Political institutions have allowed for the severe socioeconomic gaps between Black Americans and their white peers to persist so Black populations remain at higher risk of being in poor health and increased risk of mortality.

Modern-day policing has direct ties to enslavement, which explains quite a bit about why police conduct themselves the way that they do during interactions with Black folks. Discriminatory policing also leads to a disproportionate number of Black people being incarcerated where their health is further deprioritized. 

Below are a few stories that do a fantastic job explaining why we all need to view racism as a public health crisis, how this wave of protests is different and why we need to begin seriously imagining a world without police. 

How are you looking at this moment? Have you been able to start seeing a world without police? Or at least a world where more money is freed up and funneled into social programs? Let’s discuss.

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Racism Kills: Why Many Are Declaring It a Public Health Crisis — “Though the idea of recognizing racism as a detriment to public health isn’t new, it has gained traction since the police killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests around the country. On top of that, people of color — African Americans in particular — have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve had a crash course in public health over the past few months. For the first time in our lifetime, we’ve had to grapple with the idea of relinquishing some of our own autonomy and freedom in order to help the greater good — in this case, the health of the public. And though we still have a long way to go, we’re finally getting used to thinking of health in terms of our interconnectedness, rather than solely on an individual basis. With public health being top-of-mind for many people right now, it’s the ideal time to use that language and framing to take on systemic racism.” [Rolling Stone]

Public Health Experts Say the Pandemic Is Exactly Why Protests Must Continue — “The letter and the experts who signed it make a case for viewing the protests not primarily as something that could add to cases of coronavirus (though they might) but as a tool to promote public health in and of themselves. Protests address ‘the paramount public health problem of pervasive racism,’ the letter notes. ‘We express solidarity and gratitude toward demonstrators who have already taken on enormous personal risk to advocate for their own health, the health of their communities, and the public health of the United States.’” [Slate]

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police — “When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm. People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.” [NYT]

Why Minneapolis Was the Breaking Point — “Years into the movement, the potential for true progress may finally be at hand, in no small part because the same cycle of unabated violence that has infuriated Black activists is finally, due to the unrelenting stream of video evidence, forcing many white Americans to wake up. For decades, police violence and impunity had been problems that, polling suggests, only Black people could see. The street uprisings of recent years—in Ferguson and Baltimore, Baton Rouge and Chicago—were propelled by Black rage; although they had allies, those who flooded the streets in response to those incidents of police violence were primarily Black men, women, and children. Now white eyes have been opened too.” [The Atlantic]

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