Dr. Patrice Harris is an Atlanta child and adolescent psychiatrist who was elected this year as the first female African American President of the American Medical Association (AMA). She and AMA Board Chair Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld write: “Corporeal and psychological violence at the hands of police is a derogatory device of enforcement, which is a philosophy our AMA cannot abide. Police brutality in the midst of public health crises is not crime-preventive—it creates demoralized conditions in an already strained time. It exacerbates psychological harms and has a clear impact on bystanders. Over time, this violence manifests as an erosion of communal trust in police and a “weathering" of people whose bodies are historically “over-policed”. The history of over-policing marginalized and minoritized communities in America is well-ingrained within our culture, but not inextricably so. The ultimate defense against police violence in times of public health crisis, and beyond, is centering equity and ensuring accountability as a public health measure.”
Oregon, in particular, has an outsized history of racism having the distinction of being the only state that banned Black people from its borders (1857) and in the 1920s become a haven for hate-mongering and racist groups such as the Klu klux klan (recently proposed to be named a terrorist organization) and the John Birch society. Oregon was so unwelcoming to Black people that very few lived here until WWII. The legacy of this systemic racism continues to shape our communities. Portland is the whitest large city in America (5.8% Black). In a 2016 Atlantic article, African American educator Walidah Imarisha observed, “ I think Portland has, in many ways, perfected neoliberal racism.” Furthermore, we like many states across this nation committed genocide against indigenous people and unconscionable acts of physical, environmental and legal atrocities that affect native peoples to this day.
In our profession, we are in a unique position to witness that racism begins its debilitating developmental impacts as early as prenatally and continues as an oppressive presence in our classrooms and communities. African Americans and Native Americans are subjected to chronic deficiencies in social determinants of health across the lifespan. Low birth weight and infant mortality in Oregon are twice as high in Black infants as compared to White infants. We hear our patients’ stories of racially based harassment, bullying and physical aggression and how that impacts mental health and well-being. Black children are suspended and expelled at twice the rate of whites while research indicates Children of Color are no more disruptive in class. In Oregon, Black children are three times as likely to be in foster care and much less likely to go home within 30 days. National 2016 Department of Education data showed Black children as comprising 15% of students but 31% of police referrals. Discriminatory discipline practices with disproportionate and harsh consequences directed at People of Color do not begin in adulthood.
Fortunately, there are individuals and organizations like Tony Hopson, Sr. of Self-Enhancement, Inc. and Kali Thorne Ladd of the Early Learning Council of Oregon, to name two of many, who have been advocating for equity on behalf of African Americans in Oregon for years and we can better support their efforts. Our profession is also in a unique position to intervene. We can closely observe and take action against racist practices in school systems, health care systems and the juvenile justice system. We can use our deep understanding of the impact of trauma, the social determinants of health and the power of culture and relationship on human resilience. We can use our influence to change training practices and advocate for accountability in our local police departments. We can help our state government and health care system continue to pursue its equity path.
We must make it our practice to humbly and deeply listen to people who have suffered from racism and to invite these conversations more often with the youth and families we serve. We must learn and then take anti-racist actions.
The Oregon Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry stands in support of those fighting for justice and the end of racism. We pledge to work within our organization and our communities to address our own past short-comings and we stand with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in declaring:
We condemn racism. We condemn racist acts. We condemn inequality in all parts of our community.
We are committed to creating a just and peaceful world for our children, families, and communities.
Executive Council, Oregon Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry