Black lives matter. Black health matters. Anti-racism work is public health work.

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Anti-Blackness and racism in America are a public health crisis that requires sweeping policy and systems change. We join the protesters here in Minnesota and across the world in calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark and the many other Black people who have been murdered by law enforcement and others acting under the cloak of white supremacy in the United States.

These acts of brutality are layered upon centuries of violence, poverty, economic and environmental injustice, mass incarceration, denial of opportunities, and the crushing of talents and dreams. The crisis in our communities today has its roots in the unspeakable trauma to Black Americans from the time their ancestors were kidnapped and enslaved, creating an unacceptable mental, physical, and emotional burden that continues today. This accumulation of harm is enormously destructive to individual and collective health in the Black community, and ultimately to us all. We, the Public Health Law Center, renew our commitment to recognize our own complicity, uproot white supremacy, and break down structural and systemic racism.

George Floyd artwork in MinneapolisGeorge Floyd was a Black man murdered by police officers in a state considered one of the healthiest in the nation. But that designation is only true for white people. For Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), the disparities are stark and span the life cycle. We see it in infant mortality rates, unequal access to education, housing and home ownership, egregious disparities in pay, and chronic disease rates. In a pandemic, we see disparities in who is required to work under health-threatening conditions, who lacks paid sick leave, and who is most likely to need a ventilator or die from COVID-19.

As a public health law and policy organization, we know that law and equity do not always go hand in hand, especially when it comes to the social determinants of health. Too often, laws and policies have caused oppression and inflicted trauma, and have contributed to entrenching and deepening racism and other inequities, instead of eradicating them. We see how law is used to perpetuate racism and inequities, to shore up a dishonest social contract that inflicts a deadly toll on some and transfers wealth and privilege to others.

We acknowledge our responsibility for seeing, and working to dismantle, the structures of racism while following the lead of the most affected communities. Black-led organizations showed us the clear need to make menthol our commercial tobacco priority. Food advocates from marginalized communities led us to focus on structural racism across the food system, from land access to nutrition assistance programs. Tribal advocates helped us center Tribal sovereignty and the role of culture in supporting health in the face of centuries of genocide and colonialism. And we need to do more.

In this transformational time, there is broad momentum for work to dismantle white supremacy. We affirm our commitment to reveal and uproot systemic and structural racism in support of justice. Over the last few years, we have recognized that we have a responsibility to use our collective power to strive toward equity and health equity, in our hearts and in our work. The current crisis brings increasing urgency to this effort, and we pledge to strengthen our focus on equity and justice, and to become better partners at co-creating healthy communities for everyone.

Black lives matter. Black health matters. Let’s get to work.


June 16, 2020