Why Police Kill Black Males with Impunity: Applying Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to Address the Determinants of Policing Behaviors and “Justifiable” Homicides in the USA


Widespread awareness of the recent deaths of several black males at the hands of police has revealed an unaddressed public health challenge—determining the root causes of excessive use of force by police applied to black males that may result in “justifiable homicides.” The criminalization of black males has a long history in the USA, which has resulted in an increase in policing behaviors by legal authorities and created inequitable life chances for black males. Currently, the discipline of public health has not applied an intersectional approach that investigates the intersection of race and gender to understanding police behaviors that lead to “justifiable homicides” for black males. This article applies the core tenets and processes of Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to develop a framework that can improve research and interventions to address the disparities observed in recent trend analyses of “justifiable homicides.” Accordingly, we use PHCRP to offer an alternative framework on the social, legal, and health implications of violence-related incidents. We aim to move the literature in this area forward to help scholars, policymakers, and activists build the capacity of communities to address the excessive use of force by police to reduce mortality rates from “justifiable homicides.”

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    This manuscript uses the terms black males/men and not African-American males/men, to convey that the threat of so-called justifiable deaths is not limited to native-born black males; it also applies to those of African and Caribbean descent.


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This manuscript is dedicated to the memories of the black boys and men as well as black girls and women, who have been injured or died and having their deaths ruled as a “justified homicide.” This manuscript cannot capture nor fill the void many family, friends, neighbors, and community members experience when one of these incidents occurs. We hope this manuscript will inspire active steps of academics, practitioners, community organizers, and policymakers to remedy the negligent acts of some police officers, so that no community will have to mourn the loss of one of its members and engage in reconciliation after a “justifiable homicide.” The work of Dr. Gilbert is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Connections Grant and the Saint Louis University Faculty Research Leave Program.

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Correspondence to Keon L. Gilbert.

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Gilbert, K.L., Ray, R. Why Police Kill Black Males with Impunity: Applying Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to Address the Determinants of Policing Behaviors and “Justifiable” Homicides in the USA. J Urban Health 93, 122–140 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-015-0005-x

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  • Black men’s health
  • Health inequalities
  • Police brutality
  • Critical race theory
  • Public Health Critical Race Praxis
  • Intersectionality
  • #BlackLivesMatter