Police Violence Is a Public Health Problem

A protester flees as police use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd near the White House yesterday. Image: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty
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A protester flees as police use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd near the White House yesterday. Image: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

Protests against police brutality against black Americans risk spreading COVID-19—but police violence is a public health crisis that cannot be ignored, either.

“These two stories are linked. They are both public health stories. The link is systemic racism,
” writes Brian Resnick in Vox.

Public health experts are taking a stand against the toll of racism on the health of black communities.

“One in every 1,000 black men and boys can expect to be killed by police in this country,” says Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist. “To me, this clearly illustrates why police brutality is a public health problem; anything that causes mortality at such a scale is a public health problem.”

Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tweeted: “As an epidemiologist of course I am worried about Covid + crowds, but as a public health professional and community member I am also worried about disparities in justice and health.” 

Epidemiologists shared tips to help mitigate the risks:

  • Masks, distancing, hand sanitizer, eye protection (Rivers)

  • "Yelling can spread droplets, choose signs, drums, or similar noise makers—and stick with a buddy group to keep your unknown contacts low.” (Boston School of Public Health’s Ellie Murray)

Journalist Amy Maxmen tweeted this warning: “Firing tear gas at peaceful protestors is always terrible but during a pandemic this is inexcusably dangerous. We want to keep people safe and out of the hospital.”

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