Police Violence is a Public Health Issue
Police Violence is a Public Health Issue
Dear Mayor Edwin Lee,
As healthcare professionals serving the people of San Francisco, we believe that police brutality in this city is a grave public health concern. We are witnessing an epidemic of police violence disproportionately taking the lives and opportunities of people of color, demonstrating patterns of racism and flagrant violations of public safety. Each unjust death leaves deep scars upon our patients and families and erodes the public trust. In our hospitals and clinics, we treat victims of police brutality, racial profiling and excessive force; we believe these casualties to be widely preventable. We call for law enforcement to be held accountable for this violence, and demand that the city take swift, transparent action to systemically reform its structure of policing.
In 2015, the bullets of police officers caused an estimated 1,134 deaths in the U.S., making it more than 8 times safer to fly on an airplane than to walk the streets of our country. African Americans and Latinos make up almost half of these deaths (1-3). In San Francisco, this statistic is reflected in the recent, tragic deaths of Mario Woods killed 12/2/2015, Alex Nieto killed 3/21/2014, Kenneth Harding Jr. killed 7/16/2011, Amilcar Perez-Lopez killed 2/26/2015, and most recently Luis Gongora killed 4/7/2016, within 30 seconds of encounter. As a nation, we also grieve the deaths of Rekia Boyd, Mike Brown, Miriam Carey, Eric Garner, Michelle Cusseaux, Akai Gurley, Aiyana Jones, Andy Lopez, Natasha McKenna, Oscar Grant, Kayla Moore, Fong Lee, Gynnya McMillen, Tamir Rice, Symone Marshall, Sandra Bland, Ruben Salazar, Tanisha Anderson and countless others who have died from police shootings, abuse and negligence.
In healthcare, our responsibility to treat comes with accountability for potential harm. We call for mandatory reporting and tracking of police shootings and excessive force. Just as we must publicly report our patients’ causes of death, and be scrutinized for malpractice, law enforcement agents must publicly report police-involved deaths and assaults, and stand accountable for any unjustified, impulsive or avoidable violence inflicted upon citizens.
In addition to unwarranted deaths, police aggression threatens the wellbeing of our communities. Victims of this violence suffer physical and psychological damage (4-6). Witnesses and communities are similarly traumatized after these events, leading to poorer health outcomes. Victims and communities affected by police violence tend to engage in less healthy behaviors, may be less likely to contact police when their health or safety is jeopardized and endure lasting adverse psychological and social effects (6-8).
Many law enforcement agents take an oath of honor to “never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust (9).” Similarly, a fundamental principle of healthcare workers worldwide is, “first, do no harm (10).” We admire and honor police officers that serve communities with integrity. However, we rebuke those who use undue force and racial profiling. It has led to betrayal of the public trust that ripples out to all police agents and public institutions, including public hospitals, such as Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. We urge the police department to also “first, do no harm.”
We are committed to improving the wellbeing and health of the people of San Francisco. As such, we cannot remain silent about the public health crisis of police brutality. We urge you to end police brutality through lasting institutional changes and we demand transparent accountability of law enforcement.
Concerned Health Professionals
The above statement does not represent the view of the UCSF School of Medicine or UCSF Medical Center.
(1) Swaine J., Laughland O., Lartey J., McCarthy C. (2015). Young black men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths. The Guardian. <http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men>
(2) Jansen, Bart. 2015 One of the Safest on Record for Airliners. USA Today. 15 Feb. 2016. Web 16 May 2016.
(3) The Guardian (2016). The Counted: People killed by police in the US. <http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database>
(4) Amnesty International. USA: Race, Rights, and Police Brutality. 31 August 1999
(5) Brunson, R. Police don't like Black people: African American young men's accumulated police experiences. Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 6 (2007): 71–102.
(6) Cooper, Hannah. Characterizing Perceived Police Violence: Implications for Public Health. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 94, No. 7 (2004): 1109-1118
(7) Stewart, E. Either they don't know or they don't care: Black males and negative police experiences. Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 6, No. 1, (2007): 123–130.
(8) Shuval, Kerem, et al. ‘I Live by Shooting Hill’ - A Qualitative Exploration of Conflict and Violence among Urban Youth in New Haven, Connecticut. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. Vol. 23, No. 1, (February 2012): 132-143
(9) Conser JA., Paynich R., Gingerich TE. (2011). Law Enforcement in the United States. Burlington MA: Jones and Barlett Learning
(10) Smith CM. (2005) Origin and uses of primum non nocere--above all, do no harm. J Clin Pharmacol 45(4):371-7.