Our second winning essay comes from Jordan Wolfe of The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health:
Just as there are countless forms of cancer plaguing the human population, there are a plethora of different health disparities that we face as well, and just as there is no one cure for cancer, it is unrealistic to expect one straightforward solution for all health disparities either. Instead, the solutions we create must be specific, explicit, and tailored to the population and problem being addressed. One of the most pressing but underacknowledged health disparities that currently exists in America is that of police violence and brutality towards the African American population.
Although not commonly perceived as a public health issue, police violence and brutality has a grave impact on the health of both individuals and communities. Living in a neighborhood where the local police engage in high rates of frisking and use-of-force is significantly correlated with physical health outcomes such as diabetes, blood pressure, asthma, and obesity, as well as mental health outcomes such as depression, suicidal behavior, and severe feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Although the African American community makes up only 13% of the American population, they shouldered the burden of 26% of police-related deaths in 2015, 24% in 2016, and 23% in 2017. At an aggregate level, cities with 16% more African American residents experienced 66% more police excessive force complaints. This data points to a public health phenomenon occurring not just at the individual level, but at the community and institutional level, which is referred to as the “minority threat hypothesis”, which proposes that cities with more minority residents employ greater coercive control strategies by the police.
This is not to say that police departments are not making efforts to address the issue and curb rates of police violence. As a matter of fact, many local police departments have instituted new training programs, cultural awareness workshops, and community policing efforts in hopes of forging new and better relationships between police officers and their communities to prevent further violence. What is lacking here is cohesiveness between departments and a national support of their efforts. One solution to this void could be the creation of a mandatory and publicly-accessible community policing portal, instituted nationally through the Department of Justice. This portal could serve as a forum for local police departments to report their innovative strategies and best practices for decreasing police violence, as well as track use-of-force and violence outcomes. In comparison, CMS mandates that hospitals publicly report the rate at which their hospital employees receive the flu vaccine; this is required because workers who don’t receive the vaccine pose a threat to patients, and the hospital should be transparent and accountable for this. Like hospitals, police departments play a major role in their communities and should be held accountable for the impact of their actions on the community’s health. Only once we recognize police violence as a public health issue and treat it as such can we hope to make measurable progress in addressing and eliminating it.