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Police killings of unarmed black Americans may have health impacts for nearby unborn black infants

December 04, 2019

Pregnant Black women give birth to infants with smaller birth weights and shorter gestational ages if they live near the site of incidents in which unarmed Blacks are killed by police during their first or second trimester, according to a new study. The results illustrate how police violence viewed as the result of structural racism and discrimination may affect the next generation of Black Americans before they are even born, contributing to infant mortality and impacting cognitive development, ADHD, and future test scores. Joscha Legewie, the author of the study, emphasizes that the findings can encourage lawmakers and public health officials to consider the community-wide effects of police violence when shaping public policy. To study the impact of police killings on infant health, Legewie linked statistics from 3.9 million births in California to data on 1,891 police killings in the state between 2005 and 2017, including 164 cases involving unarmed Black victims. He compared birth weight and gestational age for Black infants in areas exposed to police violence before and after police killings of unarmed Blacks. Legewie also compared the health of infants born to siblings who either were or were not exposed to police killings during pregnancy. The results suggest that only unborn infants whose mothers lived near an incident during the first or second trimester of pregnancy were affected, and the effect was limited to police killings of unarmed Blacks. These health disparities were not identified for Black infants when armed Blacks or either armed or unarmed whites, or Hispanics were killed nearby. "I find that the effect of police killings is unique to unarmed Black victims, which makes me confident that this is not just general violence and crime," said Legewie. "The effect seems to be driven by the perceived injustice, discrimination and fear related to police killings of unarmed black victims."

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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