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Pediatricians speak out about racism, policing :

June 26, 2020

A group of influential pediatricians is calling for changes to police policies and oversight in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Members of Pediatricians Against Racism and Trauma (PART) said in an opinion piece in Pediatrics on Friday that society has “let the mistreatment of Black Americans continue unabated and gave in to the excuses and the protections that make it nearly impossible to hold police accountable for their actions.”

The authors include eight former AAP presidents, although PART is not affiliated with the Academy. The group formed last year after AAP Past President Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP, gave a speech about racism at the 2019 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting.

Pediatricians must “move out of our comfort zone and address this long-standing injustice in policing, or remain complicit in the continued killing of Black Americans,” the group wrote. “These killings reverberate throughout the Black communities, causing chronic fear and emotional trauma with terrible implications for children, youth and families.”

It made six policy recommendations based in part on those from Campaign Zero from WeTheProtestors. Those changes include establishing effective civilian oversight of police, minimizing and monitoring officers’ use of deadly force, investigating cases of police violence independently and creating a diverse police force that is well-trained in safe interactions with the community.

Dr. Dreyer said many police officers serve honorably, but there are systemic issues that must be addressed.

“We need to be able to enforce punishing those police that hurt people and not say, ‘well they risk their lives every day for me so I don’t want to second guess them,’” he said. “Actually we do need to second guess police about killing people and about brutalizing people.”

The group also called for government spending to be re-prioritized to include community health, mental health, education and housing and let police focus on the work they were trained to do. In addition, it said police should stop punishing minor infractions in communities of color that lead to mass incarceration and in some cases turn deadly.

“So much of the trauma inflicted on the African American community has to do with the ‘broken windows’ policing policy which says if you want to get rid of crime in poor neighborhoods you go after all the minor problems there even if they’re not really an important crime,” Dr. Dreyer said.

He hopes the perspective piece will alert pediatricians they have a role to play in addressing racism, “one of the major scourges of our country.”

“We as pediatricians need to do something about it and not say ‘well, this is not something I know about so I can’t speak up about it,’” he said. “It’s our responsibility to do so.”

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