How Structural Racism Generates Health Disparities

June 18, 2020

ANN ARBOR – In this episode of Michigan Minds, Michael Esposito, research fellow at the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research, discusses how structural racism shapes health disparities and shares the findings of a study he conducted that shows police use-of-force is among the leading causes of death for young men of color in the US.

The research data says that about one out of every 1,000 black men or boys will be killed by police, compared to one out of every 2,500 white men and boys. This means that black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. Use of police force is the sixth leading cause of death for men of color age 20-34, following accidental death, suicide, homicide, heart disease, and cancer.

The study also examined risk among women and found that black women are 1.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white women. Breaking the data down by age, young adults between the ages of 20–34 are particularly at risk.

The study was designed to scientifically describe a phenomenon occurring in the US. “To me, these numbers really highlight the structural nature of this problem,” Esposito says. adding that health indicators and economic measures demonstrate that black communities have been “handed systematically bad hands across the board.”

Esposito says recent cases of police brutality, including the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, are unfortunately not new scenarios but rather incidents that provide further evidence of systemic issues with how law enforcement is structured in the US.

“Because this seems to be such a system-level problem, we’re going to have to intervene on that level to really see change,” he says.

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