Urging Police to Do No Harm

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Editor’s Note: Recent police killings in San Francisco have spurred community outrage and activism. In response, UCSF physicians, nurses, students and staff united and formed the Do No Harm Coalition (DNHC) two weeks ago, to call attention to police violence and institutional racism as public health crises disproportionately affecting communities of color.

DNHC members provided medical care to the “Frisco 5” hunger strikers. They played a prominent role in the May 3 march on City Hall, and voiced their concerns to the SF Board of Supervisors. They also launched a social media campaign (#DoNoHarmUCSF) stating that police violence is a public health issue, staged a public demonstration in San Francisco’s City Hall and recently led a teach-in on police violence and racism to a full-capacity audience at UCSF’s Cole Auditorium.

The following is the open letter written to Mayor Ed Lee voicing the concerns of the Do No Harm UCSF Coalition. It does not represent the views of the UCSF School of Medicine or UCSF Medical Center.

Dear Mayor Ed Lee,

As healthcare professionals serving the people of San Francisco, we believe that police brutality in this city is a grave public health concern.

We are witnessing an epidemic of police violence disproportionately taking the lives and opportunities of people of color, demonstrating patterns of racism and flagrant violations of public safety.

Each unjust death leaves deep scars upon our patients and families and erodes the public trust. In our hospitals and clinics, we treat victims of police brutality, racial profiling and excessive force; we believe these casualties to be widely preventable.

We call for law enforcement to be held accountable for this violence, and demand that the city take swift, transparent action to systemically reform its structure of policing.

In 2015, the bullets of police officers caused an estimated 1,134 deaths in the U.S., making it more than eight times safer to fly on an airplane than to walk the streets of our country.

African Americans and Latinos make up almost half of these death. In San Francisco, this statistic is reflected in the recent, tragic deaths of Mario Woods killed 12/2/2015, Alex Nieto killed 3/21/2014, Kenneth Harding Jr. killed 7/16/2011, Amilcar Perez-Lopez killed 2/26/2015, and most recently Luis Gongora killed 4/7/2016, within 30 seconds of encounter, and Jessica Williams killed 5/19.

As a nation, we also grieve the deaths of Rekia Boyd, Mike Brown, Miriam Carey, Eric Garner, Michelle Cusseaux, Akai Gurley, Aiyana Jones, Andy Lopez, Natasha McKenna, Oscar Grant, Kayla Moore, Fong Lee, Gynnya McMillen, Tamir Rice, Symone Marshall, Sandra Bland, Ruben Salazar, Tanisha Anderson and countless others who have died from police shootings, abuse and negligence.

In healthcare, our responsibility to treat comes with accountability for potential harm. We call for mandatory reporting and tracking of police shootings and excessive force.

Just as we must publicly report our patients’ causes of death, and be scrutinized for malpractice, law enforcement agents must publicly report police-involved deaths and assaults, and stand accountable for any unjustified, impulsive or avoidable violence inflicted upon citizens.

In addition to unwarranted deaths, police aggression threatens the wellbeing of our communities. Victims of this violence suffer physical and psychological damage.Witnesses and communities are similarly traumatized after these events, leading to poorer health outcomes.

Victims and communities affected by police violence tend to engage in less healthy behaviors, may be less likely to contact police when their health or safety is jeopardized and endure lasting adverse psychological and social effects.

Many law enforcement agents take an oath of honor to “never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust.” Similarly, a fundamental principle of healthcare workers worldwide is, “first, do no harm.”

We admire and honor police officers that serve communities with integrity. However, we rebuke those who use undue force and racial profiling. It has led to betrayal of the public trust that ripples out to all police agents and public institutions, including public hospitals, such as Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

We urge the police department to also “first, do no harm.”

We are committed to improving the wellbeing and health of the people of San Francisco. As such, we cannot remain silent about the public health crisis of police brutality. We urge you to end police brutality through lasting institutional changes and we demand transparent accountability of law enforcement.


Concerned Health Professionals of University of California San Francisco and the Do No Harm UCSF Coalition