‘Racism is a public health crisis’: Harvard public health dean releases statement on death of George Floyd

"It is a gut-wrenching consequence of what we in the public health community know all too well."

Boston, MA - 5/31/20 - Protesters kneel in front of the State House during a peaceful march to protest the death of George Floyd who was killed by a police officer. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Protesters kneel in front of the State House during a peaceful march to protest the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. –Jessica Rinaldi / Boston Globe

The dean of Harvard’s school of public health issued a statement on the death of George Floyd on Monday, saying it is “more than a grave injustice that must be condemned.”

“It is a gut-wrenching consequence of what we in the public health community know all too well — and a reality that people of color are confronted with every day: Racism is a public health crisis,” Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote. “That reality is apparent not just in the police brutality that disproportionately claims the lives of Black Americans, but in the legacy of slavery and discrimination that persists in countless social determinants of health.”

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Health care professionals were among the thousands who joined in Sunday’s peaceful protests in Boston, and area hospitals are among the institutions expressing support for the demonstrations against institutional racism and police brutality.

"I am writing with a heavy heart. For the past several months, our Brigham community has worked tirelessly, sacrificing,…

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital on Monday, June 1, 2020

Williams said her institution’s community shares “in the despair and outrage over these killings — and the countless others that have not made headlines — that have rightfully sparked anger and activism all across the country,” referencing the pleas of “I can’t breathe” uttered by both Floyd, as a police officer knelt on his neck in Minneapolis last week, and Eric Garner in 2014.

“To understand how this manifests today, one need only examine the disparities in health care, pollution exposure, and access to green spaces, nutritious food, and educational opportunities that have long harmed health — and prematurely ended lives — in marginalized communities,” she wrote. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has newly laid these inequities bare for all Americans to see, the underlying injustices have endured for generations.”

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