Giving a Public Health Perspective to the Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality – American Journal of Public Health



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““I can’t breathe.” “Hands up.” “Black lives matter.” These statements developed in reaction to the recent deaths of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man strangled to death by police in Staten Island, New York, and Michael Brown, an unarmed Black adolescent shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri. To racial scholars, activists, and many community members, these preventable deaths were only two recent examples of the stark racial injustices that have plagued our country’s history. In both instances, the White police officers responsible for the deaths were neither charged with any crime, nor taken to trial. However, despite the national and international media attention these cases drew, they are by no means isolated incidents. Moreover, despite the media’s disproportionate focus on cases involving men, intersectional analyses demonstrate that racialized police violence and misconduct are inflicted upon women and transgendered persons of color as well.

These cases bring to light how racism, defined as a “system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on race, that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities,” and advantages others, affects the daily realities in communities of color. As public health professionals, we are committed to achieving optimal health for all. Thus, these violent, premature deaths of people of color should enrage us because they directly oppose the vision of Healthy People 2020, “A society in which all people live long, healthy lives.” Therefore, our commentary calls upon our field to recognize the pervasive role of racism in public health and to reshape our discourse and agenda so that we all actively engage in racial justice work.

Our position is not a new one. In 1998, the American Public Health Association (APHA) released a policy statement on the disproportionate impact of police violence on people of color. This statement recommended strategies for reversing the trends; however, to date, there has been no record whether these policy recommendations have been implemented. The relevance of the 1998 APHA statement to the most recent incidents of racialized police violence is chilling. Yet, almost two decades later, explicit conversations about racism remain glaringly absent from most mainstream public health discourse.”


Article published in the American Journal of Public Health providing analysis of the Black Lives  Matter movement from a public health perspective.


  • Jennifer Jee-Lynn Garcia and Mienah Zulfacar Sharif


  • Black Lives Matter: A Commentary on Racism and Public Health


  • American Journal of Public Health


  • August 2015


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