A Call To Action: Bridging Public Health And Medicine To Fight Racism, Police Brutality And State-Sanctioned Violence

A Call to Action: Bridging Public Health and Medicine to Fight Racism, Police Brutality and State-Sanctioned Violence
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As we find ourselves in an era filled with dangerous rhetoric and policies currently being proposed in the United States and around the world, the Do No Harm Coalition calls on public health and medical professionals to join the movement to end police violence. We, the Do No Harm Coalition - an affiliated group of clinicians, community health workers, public health researchers, and activists - call for a national research agenda that supports advocates and activists fighting to end police brutality, racialized violence, and other forms of state-sanctioned violence.

1) An Urgent Call for Action

The American Public Health Association’s recent adoption of a bold policy statement on law enforcement violence demonstrates the urgent need to end police violence and the growing support for public health measures to do so [1]. We feel work is of critical importance now, given the current political climate, which is likely to foster an increase in police harassment and violence against Blacks, Latinos, indigenous peoples, immigrants, undocumented people, poor people, people experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ communities, sex workers, drug users and other members of our most oppressed communities [2]. Medicine and public health have ethical commitments to the communities we serve and therefore to contribute to this movement through research and education. We must organize to resist the growing violation of our rights and lives, and we call on all those in the health field to form a unified front in the movement for human rights and an end to all forms of state-sanctioned oppression.

2) Police Violence Takes Lives and Erodes Health. Beyond murder, there are ongoing and daily assaults on Black, Brown, and other marginalized communities due to violent policing, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse [3]. Research has found associations between police harassment and/or force on a range of physical and mental health outcomes, including high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, self-rated health4; stress and community fragmentation [5–7]; and risk for HIV and STIs [8–10]. These findings demonstrate the health impacts of racist practices and threaten claims of civil rights progress. We must consider not just the individual but also the social body, as our collective history of slavery, colonization, and racism reproduces violence today.

3) A National Research Coalition on Police Violence. We call for a National Research Coalition on Police Violence to 1) examine the causes, distribution, and health effects of state-sanctioned violence across the United States; and 2) evaluate interventions to reduce police violence, such as community-based alternatives to promoting safety that do not rely on policing. Public health, medical researchers and community groups will convene a national meeting to share and develop methods, strategies, and a national agenda for research on police violence in 2017. We advocate for interdisciplinary, intersectional and anti-racist collaboration to monitor, research, directly intervene in and – perhaps most urgently – develop alternatives to oppressive state systems. While we have a growing body of evidence documenting lives lost and public health effects of police violence, public health research must expand its work to count and track multiple forms of police violence [11,12], examine the far-reaching impact of police violence and investigate the means to end this violence.

4) Do No Harm Coalition – Building Interdisciplinary, Anti-Racist Work Against Police & Structural Violence The Do No Harm Coalition (DNHC) was founded at UCSF in May 2016 as a group of UCSF faculty, residents, staff and students “calling for an end to police violence and systemic changes to policing policies and practices in San Francisco and around the world” [13]. In 2016, the DNHC was invited to help create a clinic to support the water protectors of Standing Rock Lakota, which is now under the direction of the Native American Health Alliance at UCSF. The Do No Harm Coalition is also involved in homeless advocacy and legislative action to count police-involved killings. In building relationships with community members and advocates outside of the medical field, students and health professionals are building broad networks to challenge structural violence, and we invite other medical institutions and community health groups to join our coalition.

The coming years will bring specific challenges to human dignity in our midst. The urgency is clear – lives are lost daily to police violence, and communities continue to suffer without realizing their full health potential. As concerned health professionals across disciplines, it is our duty to attend to the social body in order to maximize our potential to heal individual bodies.

Do No Harm Coalition members march with activists on hunger strike to demand justice for individuals killed by SFPD officers.

Do No Harm Coalition members march with activists on hunger strike to demand justice for individuals killed by SFPD officers.

5) Join the National Movement to End Police Violence now.

Clinicians, community health workers, public health researchers, and activists - we invite you to sign up to see how you can get involved in this movement.


  1. Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue. http://apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2016/12/09/law-enforcement-violence-as-a-public-health-issue. Accessed December 21, 2016.
  2. Cullors P. Trump’s election means more police brutality towards black people. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/11/trump-election-black-lives-matter-police-brutality. Published November 11, 2016. Accessed December 21, 2016.
  3. Cooper H, Moore L, Gruskin S, Krieger N. Characterizing perceived police violence: implications for public health. Am J Public Health. 2004;94(7):1109-1118.
  4. Sewell AA, Jefferson KA. Collateral Damage: The Health Effects of Invasive Police Encounters in New York City. J Urban Health. 2016;93(1):42-67. doi:10.1007/s11524-015-0016-7.
  5. Gomez MB. Policing, Community Fragmentation, and Public Health: Observations from Baltimore. J Urban Health. 2016;93:154-167. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.scu.edu/10.1007/s11524-015-0022-9.
  6. Cooper HLF, Fullilove M. Editorial: Excessive Police Violence as a Public Health Issue. J Urban Health. 2016;93(1):1-7. doi:10.1007/s11524-016-0040-2.
  7. Tamayo A, Mujahid MS, Laraia B, et al. Police-Recorded Crime and Perceived Stress among Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: the Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE). J Urban Health. 2016;93(5):745-757. doi:10.1007/s11524-016-0069-2.
  8. Friedman SR, Cooper HL, Tempalski B, et al. Relationships of deterrence and law enforcement to drug-related harms among drug injectors in US metropolitan areas. AIDS Lond Engl. 2006;20(1):93-99.
  9. Cooper H, Moore L, Gruskin S, Krieger N. The impact of a police drug crackdown on drug injectors’ ability to practice harm reduction: a qualitative study. Soc Sci Med 1982. 2005;61(3):673-684. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.12.030.
  10. Mackenzie S, Benjamin M, Kalamka J, Khan M, Michels C. Experiences of Police Violence among Behaviorally Bisexual African American Men and their Female Partners: The Structural Context of HIV. In: Durban, South Africa; 2016.
  11. Krieger N, Chen JT, Waterman PD, Kiang MV, Feldman J. Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health Data and Can Be Counted. PLoS Med. 2015;12(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001915.
  12. Public Health and the Policing of Black Lives | Harvard Public Health Review. http://harvardpublichealthreview.org/public-health-and-the-policing-of-black-lives/. Accessed September 23, 2015.
  13. Do No Harm Coalition. About Us. Do no harm coalition. http://www.donoharmcoalition.org/about-us.html. Accessed November 30, 2016.

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