READ: Police Brutality is a Part of the Environmental Justice Fight

By Yessenia Funes Jul 21, 2016

The focus on police has never been stronger. But how does environmental justice connect with police brutality?

Brentin Mock at CityLab answered just that. His latest piece centers on a forthcoming study by University of California professors Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze. Set to be published in English Language Notes, the study draws the link between the “act of breathing” and police killings.

Eric Garner, whose death at the hands of New York City police officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico memorialized the slogan “I can’t breathe,” had asthma. This respiratory disease has a particular impact on people of color: Black children experience it 1.6 times higher than White children; Puerto Ricans 2.4 times more and Native Americans 1.3 times more, according to the National Institutes of Health.

This is, in large part, due to their proximity to toxic facilities. The UC researchers write:

Although the City medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, the officer who put Garner in the chokehold was not prosecuted. Garner’s asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity were all listed as factors that contributed to his death. We pause here to note that Garner’s body was already vulnerable to police violence, in part, because of these pre-existing health and environmental conditions. And yet, although these chronic illnesses were recognized as contributions to his premature death, they were understood as an individual rather than social problem, that is, as an embodiment of race and racial residential segregation in the US.

In the words of Mock, environmental injustice and police brutality are a “dangerous combo.” If police don’t end Black lives, then their environment will—just a lot more slowly.

Read the CityLab piece in full here.