We condemn George Floyd’s murder. We condemn the cruel, structurally mediated racism and violence by law enforcement that continues to traumatize and take the lives of Black men, women, and children in America. That includes Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and thousands of other Black and Latinx individuals who have been killed by on-duty police in recent years.
We also condemn the structural racism and economic inequity — and the failure of many leaders to address them — that shapes everything in our society today, from the actions of police to the impact of this pandemic. Again, we can see this with painful clarity through George Floyd’s experience. Weeks before he was murdered by police, Mr. Floyd lost his job at a local restaurant when COVID-19 hit, joining millions of Black and Latinx individuals disproportionately represented among the newly unemployed.
But condemnation is not enough. We must commit to — and demand — concrete collective action.
We are working with allies to channel our grief, anger, and frustration into concrete actions to help dismantle structurally mediated racism and violence — especially as these show up in the dual crises of police violence and pandemic response. We trust that each individual reading this is reflecting deeply on the way individual and institutional racism manifests through law enforcement and has either harmed — or benefited — you, your loved ones, and your community. As you process this moment as individuals, we ask each of you, as leaders and vanguard members of the Upstream Movement in health care, to commit to supporting collective action. Over the coming weeks, we will update our site and share resources for collective action from leading voices in this space, including Dr. Camara Jones, Dr. Rhea Boyd, Samuel Singyanwe, and others.
To start, ask your colleagues and leaders to support these evidence-based steps to help end police violence, endorsed in 2018 by the American Public Health Association (an endorsement brought about by some inspiring collective action itself):
- Improve monitoring & surveillance of law enforcement violence: Advocate for expanded, mandatory local and state reporting to CDC’s National Violent Death Report System (NVDRS). Hospitals and health systems should pressure local police departments to publicly disclose this data. Include that data in your community-health needs assessments and support community partners to help drive those numbers down.
- Support decriminalization: As the APHA and others have recognized, mass criminalization is a key mechanism through which communities of color experience heightened rates of law enforcement violence. Decriminalization is consistent with WHO recommendations for structural interventions that address social determinants of health for marginalized populations. Support these recommendations from PolicyLink and the Drug Policy Alliance.
- Divest & reallocate funds from policing & incarceration to the social determinants of health: Militarizing the police is a health hazard, especially for black communities. Research has found a statistically significant relationship between the transfer of U.S. military equipment to local law enforcement and fatalities from officer-involved shootings. Support efforts to demand that government officials divest from the militarization of criminal justice institutions and, instead, invest those dollars in social and economic development of minoritized communities. Advocate for your own institution to lead by example; anchor institutions like hospitals (with their treasury and community benefits funds), philanthropies, universities, and businesses can build on efforts like this from leading funders to divest and demand changes in municipal and state budgets.
- Invest in strategies to ensure community safety without armed law enforcement: A variety of studies have shown the benefits of community-based violence intervention programs. Several have significantly reduced homicides and nonfatal shootings in neighborhoods. Health professionals can drive more investment in these strategies. As the APHA recognized, community violence interrupters, unarmed street outreach workers, and restorative justice programs all have shown great promise in defusing and preventing potentially harmful or violent situations with no, or minimal, intervention by police.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless more individuals should be alive today. We join others, including leaders in health care and community health, in condemning their murders. We also recognize our work is not done. It’s time to commit ourselves and our institutions to advancing evidence-based steps to dismantling structural violence and racism.
Rishi, Sadena, and the HealthBegins team