New AMA Policy Recognizes Police Brutality as Product of Structural Racism



Physicians, residents and medical students at the American Medical Association's (AMA) Special Meeting of its House of Delegates (HOD) recognized the detrimental public health consequences of violent law enforcement interactions in adopted policy addressing the need for policing reform.

The new policy recognizes police brutality as a manifestation of structural racism disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, and directs the AMA to take steps to tackle policing reform and racial injustices, including:

  • Working with interested parties on a public health effort to support the elimination of excessive use of force by law enforcement.
  • Advocating against racial and discriminatory profiling by law enforcement through anti-bias training, individual monitoring, and other measures.
  • Pushing for legislation and regulations that promote trauma-informed, community-based safety practices.

Research shows that racially marginalized communities are disproportionally subjected to police force and racial profiling, and it underscores the correlation between violent policing and adverse health outcomes. The significant harms triggered by excessive police force include: unnecessary and costly injury; elevated stress and anxiety levels; increased rates of comorbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma; and premature morbidity and death.

"The data make clear that police brutality - one manifestation of systemic racism - has significant public health consequences for impacted communities, particularly among the Black community," said AMA Board Member Willie Underwood III, M.D., MSc, MPH. "The AMA is dedicated to actively working on dismantling racist policies and practices across all of health care, and we call on stakeholders to make systemic changes to protect public health and combat the detrimental effects that racism and communal violence have on the health of the nation."

The AMA urged Congress over the summer to act on meaningful and effective policing reform legislation to protect public health, urging necessary policing reforms to address the excessive use of law enforcement violence against individuals in minoritized communities. In addition, current AMA policy insists on accountability for certain forms of potentially violent law enforcement activity.

In June 2020, the AMA Board of Trustees bolstered its commitment to denouncing racism as an urgent threat to public health, pledging action to confront systemic racism, racial injustice, and police brutality. Acknowledging that systemwide bias and institutionalized racism contribute to inequities across the U.S. health care system, the AMA continues to fight for greater health equity by identifying and eliminating inequities through advocacy, community leadership, and education.