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CPHA Statement - Racism is a Public Health Crisis

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

“I can’t breathe.” These dying words under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin from George Floyd on video will haunt us as public health professionals who have committed our lives to helping people in need. We are witnessing a precarious tipping point in history as evidenced by a week of nation-wide protests highlighting the pain and anguish of Black communities. May these words also move us to action (please see resource list below) as this crisis will require all of us to move forward toward a more just and equal country . After 400 years of racism in the United States, this critical public health crisis cannot be ignored or sidestepped any longer. CPHA will not be silent and we call on you, as CPHA members and public health advocates, to join our advocacy efforts in condemning law enforcement violence, calling for law enforcement reform and accountability, and working to unwind racism in our cultural fabric.

In a Denver Post’s February 2, 2020 article, “We tracked every police shooting in Colorado last year. Here’s what we learned.”, data was presented that Colorado’s rates of police shootings are higher than the national average. In fact, Colorado has the 5th highest rate of fatal law enforcement shootings in the country. Let me be clear, this poor statistic isn’t because Colorado experiences more violence than other states. Police shootings are a complex public health issue which requires a multidisciplinary, prevention-focused approach. I represented CPHA on the Governing Council of the American Public Health Association in 2018 when we voted to pass the Policy Statement: “Addressing Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue”. This Policy recommends a public health strategy that promotes community-based solutions and prevents law enforcement violence. APHA recommends the following actions by federal, state, tribal, and local authorities to address this issue:

  1. Eliminate policies and practices that facilitate disproportionate violence against specific populations (including laws criminalizing these populations);

  2. Institute robust law enforcement accountability measures;

  3. Increase investment in promoting racial and economic equity to address social determinants of health;

  4. Implement community-based alternatives to addressing harms and preventing trauma; and

  5. Work with public health officials to comprehensively document law enforcement contact, violence, and injuries.

These recommendations can serve as a starting point for how we can advocate for change in our individual communities.

Please join CPHA in our call to denounce law enforcement violence, ensure we can respond with a voice for those who have lost their lives too soon and can no longer speak for themselves, and work together with us to raise up a loud public health voice that can no longer be ignored.

Racism is a public health crisis. It is a risk factor, a social determinant of health, and a root cause of health disparities. As Dr. Georges Benjamin, APHA Executive Director said in APHA’s statement (5/29/20), “Racism is an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now”, “racism is a longstanding systemic structure in this country that must be dismantled, through brutally honest conversations, policy changes and practices.” At CPHA, I acknowledge we have made strides in the last decade towards improved diversity and inclusion practices, and driven faithfully toward our vision of “To create the healthiest Colorado for everyone” with health equity at the core. In 2019, we voted to add a Health Equity Officer to the Executive Committee to ensure health equity was considered in every decision we make. However, I also acknowledge we have a long way to go in our active work to dismantle systemic racism, implicit bias and to improve our internal practices. My commitment in the remainder of my term is to:

  • SAFE SPACE: Work to build and maintain safe and inclusive spaces for difficult dialogue in our Board, and with our membership and the communities we serve.

  • LISTEN: Listen to you and pay attention to how we can do better as an organization and in supporting our community in addressing racism and its impacts. I invite you to teach me and please know I am also doing my own work to understand and educate myself to grow into a more effective ally and responsible citizen.

  • IMPROVE: Invite honest assessments of our Board and membership engagement practices and incorporate your feedback to improve. In addition, the CPHA Board will work with the recommendations from CPHA’s Health Equity Coalition to put bias reduction practices into place prior to my term’s end.

  • COMMIT: Collaborate with partner organizations and communities to understand best practices for advocacy and engagement, as well the best ways for CPHA to direct our time, talents and resources to stand with and for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

Please ensure your CPHA membership is up to date and join CPHA’s Health Equity Coalition to maximize our impact.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Respectfully, Kim Kimberly Boyd, RN, NP, ND President, Colorado Public Health Association


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