Physicians for Human Rights mourns and condemns the killing of George Floyd, an abhorrent act of excessive force and police brutality.
We denounce this epidemic of police violence against people of color and the senseless loss of life it causes. We extend deepest condolences to the family of George Floyd, as we continue to hold in our hearts the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and those of many others whose lives were cruelly cut short by current and former U.S. law enforcement officers.*
These most recent deaths reflect a public health and human rights crisis that is clearly rooted in the United States’ legacy of structural racism – a system that unfairly rewards some and harms others on the basis of skin color.
PHR joins the many medical and public health organizations, like the National Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and the American Medical Association, to speak out about the terrible toll on life and health caused by systemic racism in the United States. As is the case with all violations of human rights, police acts of violence terrorize not only individual victims but whole communities.
These most recent acts of violence occur at a time when communities of color are disproportionately experiencing severe health, social, and economic harms from the COVID-19 pandemic, including high rates of death and serious illness. Compounding this suffering, disproportionate and excessive use of force by law enforcement against people of color violates the right to life, dignity, security and bodily integrity.
PHR is also gravely concerned about the health effects of law enforcement’s use of indiscriminate crowd-control weapons during demonstrations. Law enforcement must take essential precautions to de-escalate these situations and respect the right to peaceful protest. The dangers of clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators are made more extreme by the COVID-19 pandemic. Current actions such as the use of tear gas to disperse crowds, which induces people to rub their eyes and faces, is an extremely dangerous tactic in the context of the pandemic.
While the deaths of Black people at the hands of police is a centuries-long phenomenon, the current United States president is actively fueling discord and intolerance. A true leader would offer empathy and strive to help heal the nation. Time and time again, President Trump instead has opted to heighten divisions and inflame hatred and distrust.
This moment, in the midst of an historic pandemic, we are confronting a profound health and rights emergency. It compels all of us – particularly health professionals, with an ethical duty to alleviate suffering and promote health and respect for human rights – to not be bystanders. We must act for justice, human rights, and public health. Right now, to be silent is to be complicit.
We join with colleagues in calling for a thorough, independent, and transparent investigation of the killing of George Floyd and other acts of police violence, for the end to impunity for perpetrators, and for the institution of effective measures to prevent future violence. We must all work together for a just society in which all of us, no matter the color of our skin, can take a jog on a sunny day, buy food at a community deli, and sleep peacefully at night without fear of being killed by a police officer.
*An earlier version of this statement indicated that Ahmaud Arbery was killed by U.S. law enforcement officers. Gregory McMichael (a former law enforcement officer) and his son Travis McMichael were charged with murder and aggravated assault in the killing of Mr. Arbery.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.