American Public Health Association says: Police violence is a public health issue

From Nov. 10 to 13, hundreds of public health professionals attended the American Public Health Association annual organizing meeting at the Convention Center in downtown San Diego. The 2018 conference discussed and approved a policy statement addressing law enforcement as a public health issue. The overall organizing theme was “Health Equity Now: End Police Violence.”

The proposed policy statement recommended immediate actions by federal, state and local authorities to eliminate policies and practices that facilitate disproportionate violence against specific populations, including laws that criminalize these populations; instituting robust police accountability measures; increasing investment in policies promoting racial and economic equity; and implementing community-based alternatives for addressing harms and preventing trauma, such as community-led restorative justice and violence intervention programs. This statement was one of a dozen policy statements adopted at the annual meeting. Another was opposing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

APHA, the most prominent U.S. public health organization, with more than 25,000 members, has made an important strategic move framing police violence as a health issue. Their goal is to make law enforcement accountable for police shootings, trauma and stress caused by police harassment and other forms of police abuse, a concern for doctors, nurses, public health officials and scholars.

One of the important gatherings during the four-day annual meeting was a forum titled “Ending Police Violence” held at the historic Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego’s Balboa Park. This shadow session was organized by volunteers representing the End Police Violence Collective, a growing group of public health researchers, teachers, graduate students, nonprofit leaders and community organizers. Organizers chose this space to “shift and decolonize” the tone of the meeting, and to highlight and respect the ongoing trauma experienced by movements led by local community organizers and activists. The panelists were community organizations and critical researchers whose focus includes ending police violence. The panelists included Asantewaa Boykin, Oakland, Anti Police-Terror Project; Gloria Verdieu, San Diego, Committee Against Police Brutality; Apollo Olango, Alfred Olango Justice and Unity Foundation; Aundrey Jones, Ethnic Studies–University of California at San Diego; Pedro Ríos, San Diego, American Friends Service Committee; and Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, Los Angeles, Frontline Wellness Network.

The forum began with the reading of a draft of the statement by members of the collective followed by a talk from the keynote speaker, professor Alex S. Vitale, author of “The End of Policing.”

The panelists were asked to speak on the question: “How does policing prevent communities from producing safety and healthy well-being in our communities.” Speaker after speaker described the negative effects of policing in the communities where they organize.

After a break, the panelists returned to answer the vital question: “How to end policing in our communities?”

Abolishing capitalism was the first response, and it received loud, enthusiastic applause from the audience. Other steps included educating the communities on the role of the police in society, defunding the police, community control of police and policing, and community-elected police review boards that meet independently from the police and law enforcement officials.

Many cases of police abuse and police murder were brought up by panelists. The Committee Against Police Brutality provided a slide presentation showing the names and faces of people killed by the police in San Diego.

It was noted that the Guardian’s database titled “The Counted” recorded 1,093 people killed by the police in 2016 and “Killed by the Police” recorded 1,171 people killed by the police in 2017.  Police killings are responsible for 10 percent of homicides each year in the U.S. This is not okay. Indigenous, Black and Brown people make up a disproportionate percentage of people killed by police.

These independent sites took the initiative to record these deaths because the state itself has no comprehensive database in place to record the numbers of people killed by law enforcement.

The conference ended on Monday, Nov. 13, with a rally in front of the Convention Center. The APHA Governing Council overwhelmingly approved and adopted the statement recognizing that policing and police violence is a public health issue.

Go to https://endpoliceviolence.squarespace.com/ to read the full statement.