Traditionally we think of HIV/AIDS, obesity, anthrax, and H1N1 as topics that have prompted our attention towards public health crisis. But with the recent increase in mass shootings, attacks, and police violence are we forgetting to take a closer look at another however subtle form of a public health crisis?

Just recently in the news you may have heard about the fatal shooting of 17 year old Laquan McDonald in Chicago by no-longer police officer Jason Van Dyke. There is significant controversy behind this event and for which I would like to bring light to the issue of police violence causing many deaths in just the past year. We are so accustomed to talking about the role of disease in a public health crisis that we do not stop to think that there can be all sorts of different types of causes of a public health crisis, including police violence. According to varies sources, the number of people killed by police officers in just 2015 has surpassed 1000 people1 but what are we as health professionals doing in order to help end the police violence? Whereas with the flu epidemic we are constantly working on ways to make the flu vaccine cover more strains to provide the best coverage, there is not a lot that we as health professionals are doing in order to decrease the deaths associated with police violence.

A group of health professionals from Chicago, Illinois however is trying play a role in the police violence associated with 17 year old Laquan McDonald by holding a gathering calling for the resignation of the Mayor of Chicago. Medical students, Nursing students, Physicians, and all types of Health Care Professionals from Chicago plan to hold a gathering (#WhiteCoats4BlackLives) on the morning of December 10, 2015 which will last 16 minutes. Each minute represents each bullet that was shot into Laquan McDonald. This gathering for Laquan McDonald is novel because previously we have not seen marches or gatherings being led by Health Care Professionals since police violence is not traditionally deemed as being a public health crisis.

It is important to define what a public health crisis is in order to determine if police violence could indeed be considered a public health crisis. Based on our trusted source Wikipedia, a public health crisis “is a difficult situation or complex health system that affects humans in one or more geographic areas (mainly occurred in natural hazards), from a particular locality to encompass the entire planet.”2 If you take a closer look at the definition, police violence would definitely meet the criteria for what is a public health crisis. The catastrophic influenza outbreaks are “complex health system(s)” that do affect “humans in one or more geographic areas.”2 Is not police violence a “difficult situation” that affects “humans in one or more geographic areas?” 2. Thus, if police violence is a public health crisis then it is even more necessary for our health care professionals to become involved in the fight against police violence. As citizens we should be concerned about the police violence epidemic but as health care professionals we should participate in this fight because we will bring novel and creative ideas of how to stop the violence.

What do you think? Should police shootings be considered a public health issue?

1.) http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/reports/
2.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_crisis