Police car.

Police Should Not Be Enforcing Emergency Public Health Orders

Cross-posted from COVID-19 and The Law, where it originally appeared on November 9, 2020. 

By Daniel Polonsky

On a weekend when police officers were handing masks to white residents in parks around New York City, NYPD Officer Francisco Garcia forced Donni Wright, a 33-year-old Black man, to the ground and knelt on his neck. Officer Garcia was one of 1,000 NYPD officers dispatched to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing. He had been investigating a report of individuals not wearing masks, although he himself was not wearing one. Police Chief Terence Monahan had previously assured reporters that the police would be educating the public and only breaking up large gatherings, not bothering individuals merely walking outside—“They don’t have a mask, we’ll give them a mask.” But Officer Garcia, who has settled six lawsuits for police misconduct for a combined $182,500, did more than educate that day. Multiple officers were in the middle of arresting two individuals after allegedly spotting a bag of marijuana when Mr. Wright spoke up in their defense. In response, Officer Garcia called him a racial epithet and accosted him, causing severe injuries to Mr. Wright’s back, ribs, and chest. What started as social distancing enforcement ended in racist, excessive use of force.

This incident highlights the overlap between the twin crises state and local governments face: halting the spread of COVID-19 and grappling with the systemic racism that characterizes the American system of policing.

Click here to read the full post on COVID-19 and The Law.

Police cars.

Law as a Determinant of Police Violence

By Osagie K. Obasogie

One idea that distinguishes public health from medicine and other health sciences is the social determinants of health. This concept emphasizes the environmental conditions that give rise to health outcomes — poverty, lack of access to resources, exposures to contaminants, etc. — rather than locating disease solely in biological or physiological processes bounded by human bodies. Following this lead, public health interventions are often focused on community practices that can improve the spaces in which people live. The public health approach is refreshingly simple: healthy communities and environments produce healthy people.

A public health framework for understanding how police and policing impact community health outcomes is necessary as we continue to have wide-ranging conversations about excessive use of force. Improving the health of local communities involves rethinking the laws that govern how police interact with the people they serve.

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Woman holding sign that reads "I can't breathe."

Black Women Can’t Breathe

By Michele Goodwin

Years before George Floyd begged to be released from under the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin, Barbara Dawson, a fifty-seven year old Black woman, died begging a police officer, John Tadlock, not to remove her oxygen mask. Her death occurred right outside the Calhoun Liberty Hospital in Blountstown, Florida, shortly before Christmas in 2015.

Just before Officer Tadlock’s arrival, Ms. Dawson arrived at the hospital seeking oxygen. The hospital’s response to Ms. Dawson’s request was to call law enforcement. Photographs show Ms. Dawson slumped next to the police car. A police recording captures the tragic end of Ms. Dawson’s life. Officer Tadlock reprimands Ms. Dawson: “Falling down like this and laying down, that’s not going to stop you from going to jail.”

Ms. Dawson’s life ended on the pavement, feet away from the entrance of the hospital that phoned the police on their patient — because she refused to leave. She lay there nearly twenty minutes before being pronounced dead. It turns out she had a blood clot in her lungs.

In some sense, there is nothing extraordinary about the image of Ms. Dawson, or the interactions of the hospital and officer, which further complicates the deadly exchange. Indeed, the interaction was far too normal: Black women fear for their health and safety when they do not seek care and, troublingly, even when they do.

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swarm of media and tv cameras

The Hidden Cost of Misinformation: Harms from Opioid Hysteria Extend Beyond Overdose Deaths

Fentanyl is a potent opioid analgesic and has been the center of the opioid and overdose epidemic. As an illicit agent, fentanyl is often in the form of a powder, which is then either insufflated (the fancy medical term for snorting) or dissolved in water and injected intravenously. It is fifty to one-hundred times more potent than heroin, the drug it replaced as the illicit opioid of choice. It can cause significant euphoria and analgesia, which is why it is so widely used. It can also cause respiratory depression or complete respiratory arrest, the reason it can be so deadly. It is readily absorbed when insufflated or injected and the actions are almost immediate. These are the facts.

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Image of the backs of two police officers

Security and Health: Police as Key Players in Public Health

For more than a decade, a variety of scholars and practitioners in public health, policing and the broader domain of security have been stoking a conversation about the links between their disciplines and the need to do a better job integrating the disciplines and practices.

This week, The Lancet published a special series on Security and Health. A global set of authors, myself included, make the case that military and police forces should be recognized as key players, rather than intruders, in public health, and therefore we need these relationships to be backed by investment in partnerships and reform. Take a look. You may even be inspired to put the next global Law Enforcement and Public Health Conference on your agenda, set for Edinburgh in October.

 

Police and Public Health in Partnership

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law recently conducted a web discussion of steps to implement the Commission’s recommendations for better harmonizing law and HIV control.  One of the questions for discussion was:

What are examples of innovative or non-traditional partnerships that can be used to strategically advance human-rights based responses to HIV … ?

 

Nick Crofts posted an interesting essay elaborating on “three falacies”:

  • that police are merely passive implementers of the law; so that if the law is reformed, police attitudes and behaviours towards MARP communities will automatically fall in line;
  • that police are the enemy, and that their behaviours are not amenable to change without confrontation; and/or
  • that training and sensitization of police is adequate to change behaviours of police towards MARP communities.

I agree with him, and have seen these beliefs hinder action for a long time. Nick has some interesting thoughts about ways to move forward. He also talked about the work of The Law Enforcement and HIV Network (LEAHN) , which is working to bride the gap between police and public health agencies. It’s worth a few minutes to read it.

LEAHN is sponsoring its second global conference next Spring in Amsterdam.

An International Meeting of Public Health and Law Enforcement

By Scott Burris

We know, and now most people acknowledge, that police activity has some clear, and in some instances intentional, effects on health.  To start with the obvious, police are instrumental in reducing the number of people who are murdered, assaulted, raped, or otherwise terrorized. Policing – like any form of social intervention – can also have unintended consequences. There is, for example, considerable evidence that criminal law and legal practices can increase risks of HIV and other harms among drug users.

These facts are well-established and pretty well recognized. So now the question is not whether policing has health consequences, but rather whether social and health work is to be seen as an integral element of law enforcement in the 21st century.  In much of their day to day work, police are engaged in far more than the prevention of crime or the maintenance of social order.  This is something we all know, something that has probably always been true of police work, something that is shaping a lot of programs around the world, and yet something we need to talk more openly about.

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