Police Violence IS a Public Health Issue at APHA
An exciting victory in the fight against racist police violence was won at the American Public Health Association convention on November 1, 2016. Over 10,000 largely progressive health workers meet annually to present public health data and program outcomes. Members may also propose policy resolutions to represent the organization’s agenda. The cautious and conservative leadership review them and recommend approval or rejection, although a representative membership body votes to accept or reject them.
This year a group of young public health students put forward a resolution stating that police violence is a public health issue that requires action, such as decriminalization, robust police accountability measures, increased investment in policies promoting racial and economic equity, and community-based alternatives for addressing harms and preventing violence and crime, such as jobs, community-run restorative justice and violence intervention programs.
The powers that be recommended its rejection – they didn’t want the APHA to appear to be unfriendly to the police. At the public hearing, people gave eloquent arguments to support it while some wanted to take another year to add references (there were already 82)! When one person complained that the action steps were unfeasible, the presenter responded: “This is a vision for what public health should fight for.”
When members heard that such a resolution might be rejected, many were angry. A leaflet was written and widely disseminated calling for a rally. Over 50 attendees skipped professional sessions to march in front of the convention center chanting “APHA,
practice what you preach today,” “No public health silence in the face of police violence,” and “Stop the killing, Stop the lies, Eric Garner didn’t have to die.”
Many then went inside to where the vote was pending. When the leadership learned that a fierce floor fight over racism was about to occur, they were terrified. Right off the bat they proposed to suspend the rules to allow the resolution stand for one year, and then modified and discussed again in October, 2017. The vote was overwhelmingly positive, and now there is a chance to continue the struggle next year too.
Attendees also discuss many other issues at the intersection of health and politics at these meetings: conditions in Haiti and Palestine, the influence of war and conflict on health, the huge economic and racial disparities in health and health care within the US, the need for a single payer health insurance system and trade policies.
The embracing of police violence as a health problem is inspired by the mass
movements against racist police violence in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore. When we have a mass movement of united workers and students, we can change the conversations and policies. Working in large organizations like the APHA gives us the opportunity to reach thousands of people. It is a great place to make new friends and push forward the struggle against war and racism.