Police Shooting Deaths Should be a Nationwide Health Equity Priority

**Triggers - Gun Violence**

This week is National Public Health Week (April 2-8, 2018) with this focus:

"Everyone deserves to live a long and healthy life in a safe environment."

It's also National Minority Health Month (April 2018), and while the current administration chooses to focus on "a time to learn more about the health status of racial and ethnic minority populations in the U.S. " (whatever), my friend/colleague/sis Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and  Director of the Office of Minority Health from 2011 - 2017,  chose to focus in 2016 on what many of us who work intentionally in health equity focus on:

"Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation, will promote the extraordinary efforts underway by HHS and the Obama Administration to reduce disparities, advance equity, and strengthen the health and well-being of all Americans."

Whatever to the term "minority,” ( but that's another blog.)

And then yesterday, April 4th, 2018, as folks were organizing and raising awareness around the murder of Stephon Clark, and commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr.,  Saheed Vassell was gunned down in the neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, NY. His community. 

So here's the thing - there will be no tangible health equity, health justice, or end to health disparities without intentionally addressing the systemic racism that exists in the fabric of this country which includes the institutionally protected practice of killing Black people by police. 


The gun violence displayed at Utica Avenue and Montgomery Street in Brooklyn, NY on April 4, 2018 was mortal trauma to Saheed Vassell, and was traumatic to the immediate family and community and to 100's of thousands (likely millions) of Black people around the world.  Mr. Vassell's family and community have spoken out about their anger, outrage, and disbelief (and many other emotions).  Witnesses have described the sudden, "no warning" appearance of the NYPD and killing of the man with no attempt at intervention.  Organizers around the country have expressed outrage, exhaustion, and dismay at another Black body being gunned down by the police.  Adults are gearing up to have another round of "the talk" with the young ones under their care. 

We feel this. Black people have known for centuries that we are not in a mentally/physically/spiritually/economically safe environment by default.  And yes we have tools for resilience and pushing thru.  With grace and beauty. Loud and proud. Ugly when we need.

But damn.

At the least a "healthy life in a safe environment" should mean my heart rate doesn't spike and body doesn’t start down the "fight/flight/freeze/appease/disconnect" path every time I see a police car or what may be an unmarked undercover car within shooting distance of my body - because I’m actually safe.

For the thousands of health practitioners that serve Black communities and wonder why the diseases you are attempting to address (of which many are actually signs of or exacerbated by chronic and acute stress) are a challenge or fall in the the “Black people have more of” category - please see the previous paragraph.

And before one goes down the road of “no one is looking at this” just know that  there is so much good work that exists to raise awareness, propose solutions, connect folks, provide holistic health support and more.  There are SO many lanes to choose from.

We do not have deficit of ideas or data.  We have a culture and society that has intentionally and actively supported and gained from the lessening of Black bodies for centuries.  A culture and society that has positioned leadership to react to steps towards civil rights and justice with counteractive legislation and action to reverse those steps (see recently the election of #45; efforts to repeal the ACA; "right to work" legislation; gutting of the voting rights act; the "muslim ban;" defunding of public education, healthcare, and housing; restrictive voting practices and redistricting. . .)

So let's step up our game.  Be bold. Disrupting this insidious murderous cycle will take creative, bold inside and outside strategy in the streets and suites. 

There are many areas (lanes) to work in. Family, community, city, national and global. Politics, policy, organizing, advocacy.  Old and new. Proven and innovative.  We need all of it.  And more!

As we look at National Public Health Week and National Minority Health Month let's look at gun violence of police against Black bodies as a health equity issue to be prioritized. 

What is your step?

Here are some resources. (Please add resources in the "comments" section)

Why Police Shooting Deaths Are ‘A Nationwide Issue’ | AM Joy | MSNBC

Cure Violence http://cureviolence.org/

Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform https://policy.m4bl.org/

Justice League NYC http://www.gatheringforjustice.org/justiceleaguenyc/

#BlackLivesMatter — A Challenge to the Medical and Public Health Communities http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1500529

National Public Health Week 2018 http://www.nphw.org/nphw-2018

Dr. Nadine Gracia, National Minority Health Month, Heart and Soul Magazine April 5,  2016 http://www.heartandsoul.com/dr-gracia-national-minority-health-month/


  1. I truly believe we are in an era of PTSD dealing with this. My husband and son are dealing with increased anxiety and are currently seeing a therapist. Hubby was diagnosed with PTSD in his latest session......it started with traumatic childhood and is exacerbated by today's events.

    1. Hey Tanya! Thanks for the post!

      I see you - sending love to you and your family to get all you need and more.

      In my med school psychiatry rotation ('03 - '04) , we looked at research exploring the effects of the Palestinian Israeli conflict on children in those regions. Research that in part concluded as PTSD on that society. I remember thinking - yes - and this applies to all my folks in the south, from the 60s, post slavery, after watching a lynching, and on and on and on. . .

      The truth is that for so many Black folks in the US (and globally). . .there is no "Post" to a lot of the trauma imposed on us because of our Blackness. . .because the insults are ongoing. Add on the many layers of individual, historical, societal, local, global, etc and we SHO NUF have a lot of work to do to.

      We got layers girl. As we unpack, we can address. As we address we can grow. Heal. Thrive.


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