Police Brutality and Reform Through a Public Health Lens

GPH recently hosted a webinar entitled “Police Brutality and Reform Through a Public Health Lens.”

With over 300 attendees, it aired in the wake of a summer of increased protests against police brutality and systemic racism in the United States, and focused on how public health professionals can help dismantle the causal systems of oppression and violence against people of color.

Prominent thought leaders on police violence and its impact on communities included: Dr. Hannah Cooper, professor of behavioral, social, and health education sciences at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University; Dr. Alyasah A. Sewell, associate professor of sociology at Emory University and founder and director of The Race and Policing Project; David Norman, research assistant and committee advisor to the "Incarceration and Public Health Action Network" at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; and Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, co-founder and associate director at the RYSE Youth Center. The discussion was moderated by Dr. LeConté Dill, director of public health practice and clinical associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at NYU GPH. Dill also wrote a post-event reflection on the desperate need for justice reform in the United States.

Cooper began the event with an overview of police violence as a public health issue and noted that this type of violence comes in multiple forms (neglectful, physical, psychological, and sexual), with “ripples across communities and across the life course.”

Sewell then contextualized the discussion with data on how police violence impacts the physical and mental health of communities, noting that “this is not a Black and brown problem. This is a society problem.”

Next, Norman explained the collective trauma of Black Americans that is rooted in the history of slavery, the Jim Crow era, and mass incarceration, and shared his own personal story and relationship with violence and traumatization. He ended by noting that “for collective trauma, we must heal history. It’s not only about the individual. We must narrate our own meaningful stories in our own languages so we can create healthy ways to deal with trauma.”

Finally, Dhaliwal called for new forms of violence intervention and prevention through healing and liberation, and challenged us to reimagine current public health practices toward a liberatory public health framework.

In a follow-up Q&A session, topics from the audience included strategies to restore and replenish oneself after performing the heavy work of dismantling systems of oppression; how to enact real, actionable change to promote equity; and how students can continue to combat state-sanctioned violence in the streets, the classroom, and virtual spaces.

Dill concluded the event by noting that “healing and liberation is not linear. This work continues after the webinar is over.”