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The American Public Health Association on how to end police violence


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: The American Public Health Association on how to end police violence

  • The ‘hypocritical’ loophole in New York’s pledge to stop prosecuting marijuana

  • In Oklahoma, reform candidates for DA discuss their campaign challenges

  • Six executions scheduled in Tennessee for 2019 and 2020

  • ‘No glory in being last’ on criminal justice reform

  • Krasner pulls Philadelphia DA’s office out of prosecutor association

In the Spotlight

A public health statement against law enforcement violence

Last week, the American Public Health Association (APHA) adopted a statement recognizing law enforcement violence as “a critical public health issue.” Rewire reports that this move by the organization could “galvanize new research that focuses on the root causes of law enforcement violence.” Also, given the “relative lack of good data about law enforcement violence, a dearth caused largely by a lack of law enforcement transparency,” public health researchers could use their expertise to generate statistics and data that have been lacking for too long. [Cynthia Greenlee and Laura Huss / Rewire]

The statement was one of a dozen adopted by the 25,000-member strong organization at its national conference. (Another statement opposed the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.) The group End Police Violence, which drafted the statement and organized for years around its passage, described it as, among other things, “a statement firmly committed to a public health alternative, recommending upstream, community-based and community-led solutions.” In reporting the day after the statement’s adoption, The Guardian described the public health focus on the “upstream” causes of the problem, in contrast with ‘“downstream” answers like ordering officers to wear body cameras or providing them with increased access to less-lethal weapons like tasers.” [Jamiles Lartey and Oliver Laughland / The Guardian]

The physical and psychological dimensions of police violence were the focus of the statement. In 2016 alone, the physical toll included the over 1,000 fatal police shootings documented by The Guardian’s “The Counted” and the over 76,000 nonfatal injuries that resulted from “legal intervention” per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2010 and 2015, school-based law enforcement also caused at least 28 serious injuries to children. [2018 Statement of the American Public Health Association]

The APHA’s statement is also emphatic that the impact of law enforcement violence must be understood beyond individual injuries and deaths to include community-wide negative health outcomes that result from deepened health inequities and reluctance to seek healthcare by people fearful of law enforcement contact. The statement’s description of psychological violence looks at “inappropriate stops” by police officers and points to studies that have found that “stops perceived as unfair, discriminatory, or intrusive are associated with adverse mental health outcomes, including symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.” [2018 Statement of the American Public Health Association]

Among the APHA’s recommendations to federal, state, local, and tribal officials are that funds “disproportionately allocated to policing” could be more effectively invested in social services to improve health, particularly in communities where “historically rooted” and “endemic disinvestment” have driven health disparities. The emphasis on a public-health response to law-enforcement violence was a victory for those who believe, as the sociologist Alex Vitale told Filter, that “the solution to this [health problem] is best public health practices, not procedural policing reforms.” “These public health workers are on the front lines of what’s going on in emergency rooms and clinics, they see the consequences of criminalizing homelessness, mental illness, sex work,” he said. Jade Rivera, an author of the statement, described it as a “big win and big victory that an organization like APHA with 25,000 members can take really clear stances as being anti-racist and anti-oppressionist.” [Sarah Beller / Filter]

Another recommendation in the statement calls for officials to work with public health officials to “document law enforcement contact, violence, and injuries.” It has become increasingly hard to ignore that government databases severely undercount the number of people killed by the police. A study published last year by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health found that over half of all police killings in 2015 were incorrectly classified as not having been the result of interactions with police officers. [Jamiles Lartey / The Guardian] Speaking to KQED about the APHA’s failure to adopt the statement in 2017, Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician and fellow at Harvard, told KQED that although there are not enough studies on the relationship between police interactions and health, “I think we can use data that we already know about exposures to violence. We can use data that we already know about racial disparities in police interactions and just put two and two together and start putting together initiatives to actually start addressing it.” [Audrey Garces / KQED]

Stories From The Appeal

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, left, community organizer Monique Waterman, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill, and NYPD Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison announced a new policy to reduce unnecessary marijuana arrests in June.
[Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

The ‘Hypocritical’ Loophole in New York’s Pledge to Stop Prosecuting Marijuana. People caught vaping marijuana oil face the same charge as for low-level heroin possession. [Raven Rakia]

Stories From Around the Country

In Oklahoma, reform candidates for DA discuss their campaign challenges: Prosecutorial elections this year brought success for candidates who pledged to reduce mass incarceration, but in Oklahoma two challengers with a reform message—Jenny Proehl-Day and Cory Williams—lost to incumbents Steve Kunzweiler (of Tulsa County) and Laura Austin Thomas (of Payne and Logan counties). The Appeal: Political Report talked to Proehl-Day and Williams about their experiences running on a reform message. Both explained the difficulties posed by a lack of awareness about prosecutors’ power and discretion, and about why people should care (and donate). “Ninety percent of my campaign was actually an education about what a DA is, what a DA does,” Williams said. “[It was] not uncommon to hear, ‘I’ve never been arrested, why do I care, how does this impact me?’” The candidates also bemoan the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council’s role in stymieing reform. Proehl-Day faults Kunzweiler for claiming that a district attorney is above policy choices and merely applies the law, a misleading frame that Proehl-Day said left her looking like an “activist” in comparison. Kunzweiler’s comments minimizing prosecutorial discretion are belied by recent remarks he made comparing a district attorney’s job to deciding how to discipline children. [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]

Six executions scheduled in Tennessee for 2019 and 2020: Tennessee’s highest court has set execution dates, between May 2019 and April 2020, for six men on death row, a significant acceleration of executions in the state. The six executions had been halted as a result of challenges, which were ultimately unsuccessful, to the state’s lethal injection protocol. The new dates were announced Friday after a federal judge denied the request to delay the execution of another man on death row, David Earl Miller. Miller is scheduled to be killed on Dec. 6. He had a sought a delay so that his lawsuit, in which he argued that he has the right to be executed by electric chair rather than lethal injection, could be heard. Miller will be the third person executed in Tennessee this year and the eighth since 1980. [Anita Wadhwani / The Tennessean]

‘No glory in being last’ on criminal justice reform: Oregon is now the only state in the country that allows people to be found guilty at trial by a nonunanimous jury verdict after Louisiana voters ended the practice in that state this month by approving a ballot referendum. “Fortunately,” Helen Jung writes for the editorial board of The Oregonian, “shame can be a motivating force.” The idea of ending nonunanimous jury verdicts has been gaining support, including from many district attorneys. While some continue to argue that the existing system is more efficient, this is an “arrogant view,” Jung writes, “that one or two holdout jurors refuse to support the majority out of personal animus rather than a good-faith conclusion that the government has failed to prove its case.” In any case, there is “no efficiency when the system results in a wrongful conviction.” The editorial also calls on lawmakers to address other injustices, including the maintenance of a death penalty system and the mandatory prosecution of young people as adults if charged with certain crimes and mandatory prison sentences if convicted. [Helen Jung for the Editorial Board / The Oregonian]

Krasner pulls Philadelphia DA’s office out of prosecutor association: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has withdrawn his office from the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. In a speech Friday, Krasner criticized the organization for its role in Pennsylvania’s enormous prison population and for continuing to support policies that would deepen the problem, including increasing penalties for fentanyl and restoring some mandatory minimum sentences. “They have been claiming that Philadelphia supports this absolute nonsense, this throwback set of policies, and we do not,” he said. Krasner also criticized rural counties that have sought jail construction as a source of revenue. “We have a motivated bunch of rural counties—who want to have our Philadelphians, often Black and brown Philadelphians, in their jails, because it gives them power, it gives them money.” The executive director of the association criticized Krasner’s decision and told the Philadelphia Inquirer that it was the first time since at least 2010 that one of the state’s 67 county prosecutors had withdrawn an office from the organization. [Chris Palmer / Philadelphia Inquirer] In an article for The Appeal, Josie Duffy Rice looked at how district attorneys associations around the country use their power to hinder legislative reform. “When it comes to criminal justice,” Duffy Rice writes, these associations, “are largely responsible for the gulf between policy and public opinion.”

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