September 17, 2017

“While the field of public health has made some headway in addressing the causes of health disparities, as framed by health inequalities and social determinants of health, research on the prolific and constitutive criminalization of black males and its impact on the health trajectories of black males has fallen short.” Public health researchers, Keon Gilbert, DrPH, assistant professor of behavioral science and health education at Saint Louis University and Rayshawn Ray, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, pose and address this challenge in their article Why Police Kill Black Males with Impunity: Applying Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to Address the Determinants of Policing Behaviors and “Justifiable” Homicides in the USA, published in the Journal of Urban Health.  Throughout the article, they discuss how Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) and intersectionality theory can contribute to addressing determinants of policing behaviors and lay out future research agendas and policy prescriptions to reduce racial disparities in “justifiable homicides.” “Justifiable homicides” they define, are “homicides that are deemed to be justified or excused and classified by CDC as death by legal intervention.”

They also propose a number of concrete steps policymakers can take almost immediately, even with limited resources, to stem police shootings of black men. These recommendations include: readily accessible, valid, and reliable data that disaggregate homicides by law enforcement officers; repealing stop and frisk laws and reevaluating stand your ground laws; requiring police to use body cameras to document incidents with the general public; developing community review boards to improve relations between the police department and local residents, hold local officials more accountable, and assist in decisions about officer-involved killings; recognizing and fighting prejudice; and offering mental health services to communities with high levels of violence and police presence.

While some argue that national concerns about police killings of black men are overblown, as Wesley Lowery states in his Washington Post Article Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no, “comparing how many or how often white people are killed by police to how many or how often black people are killed by the police is statistically dubious unless you first adjust for population.” When you do that, “black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.”

Sandra Quinn, Senior Associate Director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity and Professor in the Department of Family Science, served as Keon Gilbert’s advisor and chair of his doctorate committee at the University of Pittsburgh. On their article, she remarked “Every week, we have painful reminders of the critical importance of this topic. Drs. Gilbert and Ray wrote a thoughtful and provocative article that resonates with those of us in public health who work to move our society to one in which we achieve health equity and equal opportunities for a healthy life."

Gilbert and Ray conclude with a call for researchers and policymakers to “draw upon PHCRP and intersectionality to help equalize the public interactions of all citizens...in order for health equity to be achieved in the twenty-first century,” and also with the hope that their article “will inspire active steps of academics, practitioners, community organizers, and policymakers to remedy the negligent acts of some police officers, so that no community will have to mourn the loss of one of its members and engage in reconciliation after a ‘justifiable homicide’.”

Journal Reference:

Keon L. Gilbert, Rashawn Ray. Why Police Kill Black Males with Impunity: Applying Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to Address the Determinants of Policing Behaviors and “Justifiable” Homicides in the USAJournal of Urban Health, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s11524-015-0005-x

Related Links

Why Police Kill Black Males with Impunity

Related People
Sandra C. Quinn