A Statement Regarding the Worcester Board of Health’s “Recommendations to the WPD to Eliminate Racism and to Mitigate the Potential for Police Brutality”

14 August 2020

Showing Up for Racial Justice-Worcester, MA

The Worcester chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ Worcester) supports the Worcester Board of Health in recommending that the Worcester Police Department adopt the twelve policy reforms put forth during the June 25th meeting of the Worcester Board of Health. Board member David Fort presented the Board with a list of twelve recommendations aimed at reducing racism and police brutality within the WPD, and the Board voted to send the WPD these recommendations with the intention of discussing the matter in greater depth in the near future. The WPD failed to appear at the Board’s following meeting on July 13th, to which they were directly invited. Adoption of these recommendations offers the WPD an opportunity to take meaningful, tangible steps towards greater accountability to the residents of Worcester. Refusal to take concrete steps toward improving the department would send a clear message to residents of Worcester and beyond about WPD’s accountability as an institution.

Systemic racism and its symptom of police brutality are unquestionably matters of public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has been but one recent showcase of race-based health inequities in this county, and in Worcester County, as in many other counties across the US, Black residents have the highest rate of infection of any racial group (NY Times, 7/5/2020). Compounding this crisis, as noted by Mr. Fort, police violence is a leading cause of death for young men of color, especially Black men (National Academy of Sciences). As Mr. Fort notes, even when interactions with police do not escalate to their most tragic conclusion, aggressive policing has wide-ranging impacts on the mental health of heavily-policed individuals and communities (American Journal of Public Health). We are continually being presented with more evidence that policing within structural racism is an issue of the utmost importance to the field of public health.

Given the indisputable prevalence of these inequities and the attention rightfully being paid to them, this moment provides us an opportunity to take action. It is imperative that, in working towards a more just, equitable future for Worcester, the Worcester Board of Health be part of the discussions and decision-making process. SURJ Worcester encourages the Worcester Police Department adopting these twelve recommendations as part of an ongoing, broad-based effort towards intersectional racial justice in Worcester. We support Board member Fort’s efforts to advance discussions and policies promoting racial justice and holding WPD to the standard that residents of Worcester deserve.