Health & Medicine Testimony: To Advance Health Equity, We Need Accountability for Racism in Policing and Gang Databases – Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Health & Medicine Testimony: To Advance Health Equity, We Need Accountability for Racism in Policing and Gang Databases

May 16, 2019

On Tuesday, May 14, Health & Medicine Policy Research Group’s Director of Health Equity, Wesley Epplin, testified before the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ Criminal Justice Committee. In addition to testifying on behalf of Health & Medicine, he testified on behalf of the Collaborative for Health Equity Cook County (CHE Cook County), for which he serves as a steering committee member. Health & Medicine supports the Erase the Database campaign that is working to eliminate gang databases used by our municipal and state governments. The coalition is led by Organized Communities Against Deportations, Black Youth Project 100, and Mijente, and is part of the expanded sanctuary campaign in Chicago.

We were invited to testify on the expert panel about the public health and health inequity implications of the gang database. We support this work with our perspective on how racism in policing and in society—gang databases as just one example of such racism—is a fundamental cause of health inequity, and advocating with our communities to demand justice. As noted in the testimony, The Cook County Department of Public Health’s current community health improvement plan lists structural racism as a ‘fundamental cause of health inequity, associated with imbalances in political power throughout society. It functions to normalize and legitimize cultural, institutional, and personal hierarchies and inequity that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse health outcomes for people of color.’

Our testimony lays out that Cook County has longstanding health inequities. Further, racism is a fundamental cause of health inequities. Cook County’s Regional Gang Database (RGID) is itself both a manifestation of and cause of further racism against people of color—in particular against Black people and against immigrants in our county. Our elected officials have a responsibility to be accountable for and redress the harms of RGID. Cook County leadership needs to answer questions that community members and groups are raising related to accountability and advancing equity and justice in our government.

Our testimony also laid out that the field of public health is activated to eliminate violence in policing as a public health threat, with direct quotes from the policy statement recently passed by the American Public Health Association, titled “Addressing Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue.”

For the purpose of accountability, we also raised critical questions to our Cook County Elected Officials, among them, How will Cook County Government prioritize a community-based and community-health focused approach to safety that does not involve police? Read the full testimony here.