The Impact of Police Violence on Health

Listen 48:58
Police and protesters clash Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Philadelphia, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd. Protests were held throughout the country over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Police and protesters clash Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Philadelphia, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd. Protests were held throughout the country over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis has sparked another wave of national outrage over police brutality and violence. Protesters have taken to the streets, demanding an end to police violence, and some are even asking for police departments to be defunded or abolished altogether. On this episode, we explore what better policing could look like, and what role research and science might play in serious reform. We talk with experts about the effects police violence is having on Black Americans’ health — both mental and physical. It’s not only the actual violence — it’s also the constant fear of violence, and the fear of being stopped and arrested that’s causing stress and anxiety. We hear ideas for reform, along with how we can improve, or even reinvent, American policing.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • We talk to Rashawn Ray, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, about his experiences with police, and his essay “Bad apples come from rotten trees in policing.” He is also a Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
  • Harvard University public health researcher David Williams and Bay Area pediatrician and community health advocate Rhea Boyd discuss the health impact of police violence on communities of color. The threat of violence can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and hypervigilance.
  • Rohini Haar, an emergency medicine physician in Oakland, California, and medical expert for Physicians for Human Rights, explains the health effects of tear gas, which can include permanent injury and even death.
  • We talk to Karen Quigley, a psychology professor at Northeastern University, about how more factors than we might think affect police officers’ decision-making. Judith Andersen, a health psychologist at the University of Toronto Mississauga, then weighs in on how better, science-based training could help officers overcome their fight-or-flight response in the midst of stressful situations.
  • Tracey Meares — a law professor at Yale Law School, and founding director of The Justice Collaboratory — discusses her research on how to improve the relationship between police and the public, which she says involves a fundamental reframing of how we think about police.

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