Police violence, structural racism, and the science of reform

Co-sponsored by LDI and the Penn Injury Science Center, a virtual seminar on Policing, Race and Health: Prospects for Reform kicks off what will be a continuing series of conversations on the topic over the next year.

“We are at a critical inflection point in American history,” said Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics executive director Rachel Werner as she opened a virtual seminar kicking off a series of LDI scientific discussions focused on policing, race and health over the next year. The event was co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Injury Science Center

African American person in a crowd at a demonstration confronts a line of state police with riot gear.

The head of Penn’s hub of multidisciplinary health services research, Werner told the seminar, “Today’s topic of policing is a critical part of our conversation about structural racism and health because, simply put, people are dying from the slow harms of sustained exposure to racism and from trauma from policing.”

The gathering brought together leading thinkers from three universities involved in researching the short- and long-term physical and psychological impacts of law enforcement violence in minority communities. 

Seminar moderator Therese Richmond, research director of the Penn Injury Science Center, who studies the psychological effects of injury in urban black men, told the panel the issue is larger than policing. “It’s important that we’re very honest and recognize that police departments are a function and reflection of our broader society, which has serious and embedded structural racism.” She also cited a recently published article detailing how the new National Violent Death Reporting System system is providing more accurate data on the issue for researchers and policy makers.

Richmond warned about the partisan simplicity that characterizes much of the national debate that exploded out of George Floyd’s death. “We’re seeing a national dialogue devolving into a dichotomous choice of funding or not funding the police that is not particularly helpful,” she said. “Rather, we need to identify solutions that can be transformative to reach the ultimate goal of keeping all people and all communities safe and healthy.”

Read more at Penn LDI.