Racial Profiling Is a Public Health and Health Disparities Issue


Racial profiling is a public health and health disparities issue through its disparate and adverse health impact on those targeted by this practice, as well as members of their communities. We discuss six ways police profiling and racial discrimination adversely impact Black American health. We identify four direct and two indirect ways. Four direct ways are (1) violent confrontation with police that causes injury or death; (2) police language that escalates a confrontation through micro-aggressions or macro-aggressions; (3) sub-lethal confrontations with police; (4) adverse health consequences of perceived or vicarious threat, i.e., the mere belief in potential harm by police injures health. There are two indirect ways: (5) through knowledge of or personal relationship with someone who directly experienced racial profiling; (6) through public events without a personal knowledge of the unarmed person threatened or killed by police as a result of racial profiling, but where such events cause both individuals and the community at large to perceive a threat. We support recognition of racial profiling as a public health and health disparities issue. We recommend support for community programs that address the clinical health effects of racial profiling. We also recommend widespread engagement of trauma-informed policing (TIP) that acknowledges the clinical effects of racial profiling.

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The authors would like to acknowledge support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH BUILD (RL5GM118969) and NIH PIONEER (DP1AR068147) for funding this work (C.T.L.).

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Correspondence to Cato T. Laurencin.

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Laurencin, C.T., Walker, J.M. Racial Profiling Is a Public Health and Health Disparities Issue. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 7, 393–397 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-020-00738-2

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  • Racial profiling
  • Health disparities
  • Public health
  • Police
  • Structural racism
  • Mental health