On the south side of Minneapolis, a concrete wall separates the interstate from a row of century-old Queen Anne-style houses, all bearing similar messages written on cardboard taped to windows: “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for George Floyd,” “I Can’t Breathe.”
A nearby street sign posted by the Minneapolis Community Crime Prevention Program warns, “If I don’t call the police, my neighbor will.”
“Abolition” is graffitied below it.
More than half of those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods are people of color, compared with 30% of Minneapolis at large. The area includes a diverse population of Somali and Latino immigrants, who make up 20% of the ward. These neighborhoods are plagued by poverty: Nearly 1 in 5 people live below the federal threshold, and housing and food insecurity are common.
And in the same ward where the murder of George Floyd took place, residents are acutely aware of the police presence there. “They don’t feel safe just by being someone of color, and the police definitely don’t make them feel safer,” said Heidi Titze, a nurse practitioner and the clinical director of Southside Community Health Services.
People living in American communities like these endure the legacies of slavery, segregation and racism daily. Among the consequences are well-documented disparities in health status, access to care and clinical practices. And emerging science suggests that exposure to heavy policing itself can have harmful health effects including higher risks for preterm births and heart disease.
Healthcare organizations have the power to ameliorate those health consequences if they choose to use it.
In 2020, the New England Journal of Medicine published a call to action co-written by Rachel Hardeman, a health policy researcher who leads a University of Minnesota program studying the relationship between racism and health.
“Healthcare systems must play a role in protecting and advocating for their patients. Victims of state-sanctioned brutality are also patients, who may present with injuries or disabilities or mental health impairments, and their interests must be defended,” Hardeman and her colleagues wrote. “Healthcare systems should also be on the forefront of advocating for an end to police brutality as a cause of preventable death in the United States.”
In Minneapolis, institutions including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota are advancing research on the impacts of over-policing, creating tools to reduce tensions between officers and citizens, and advocating for new public safety policies.
The people who live near Southside Community Health Services have a complicated relationship with law enforcement, Titze said. Locals fear the growing prevalence of violent crime. Still, they hesitate to call the police, fearing that officers will only escalate situations, as they saw happen to Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, George Floyd and, most recently, Amir Locke.
Southside Community Health Services, a federally qualified health center, provides care to residents of an approximately 15-square-mile radius in the south-central section of Minneapolis. Its medical clinic sits less than a mile from where a police officer killed Floyd.