The policy “recognizes police brutality as a manifestation of structural racism disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, and directs the AMA to take steps to tackle policing reform and racial injustices.”
Not surprisingly, the vote was preceded by heated discussion on the virtual “floor” of the House.
The Medical Student Section had introduced the original proposal, which was debated in committee and reviewed by the Council on Science and Public Health, which recommended portions of the policy be referred back to the AMA’s board while suggesting that others be adopted.
In particular, the policy as adopted calls on the AMA to work with stakeholders to end “excessive use of force” by law enforcement officers; advocate to end “racial and discriminatory profiling” using anti-bias training, monitoring and other measures; and push for laws and regulations that promote “trauma-informed community-based safety practices.”
These resolutions were recommended for adoption, because they align with current AMA policy, explained Ankush Bansal, MD, chair of the council.
Other provisions where there was “contentious and passionate” testimony were referred for further consideration and discussion at the next meeting of the House of Delegates, Bansal said.
The portions of the resolution which were not adopted included a call to demilitarize law enforcement agencies; eliminate or reform “qualified immunity”; prohibit the use of sedative agents; and create an independent oversight committee with disciplinary power to help reduce “police on public violence.”
John Gill, MD, a delegate from Texas, “because this is such a hot button issue” called for the entire report to be referred to the committee for report back to the House.
But Sarah Mae Smith, an alternate delegate, medical student and author of the resolution, responded that the committee “got this item right” in choosing to refer items where consensus is needed while highlighting others “that need to be adopted now.”
The AMA has “the ability and the moral obligation” to address certain clear-cut policy provisions such as condemning discriminatory profiling and excessive use of force, she said. Otherwise the AMA’s own recently passed statements opposing racism and police brutality are “hollow.”
The statement that police brutality is a manifestation of structural racism rubbed some delegates the wrong way.
Doug Myers, MD, of the American Academy of Otolaryngology requested that it be stricken. He agreed that police brutality disproportionately affects people of color and is a problem worth emphasizing. But, he said, “while racism is undoubtedly the cause of some acts of brutality, to declare that police brutality is solely the manifestation of structural racism severely restricts the scope of the problem.”
Floyd Buras Jr., MD, a Louisiana delegate, also called for the House to refer the entire clause back to the board for study .
Buras acknowledged a conflict of interest: his son was a police officer in Minneapolis whose precinct was burned down “by peaceful protestors,” he said. Buras protested that the resolution as stated essentially labels his son a racist simply by virtue of his job.
But Drayton Harvey, a medical student a delegate from California and an author of the resolution, said that wasn’t the case.
“As the son of law enforcement officers, who also helped write this resolution, this language does not say that we are calling every law enforcement officer someone who commits police brutality. This is calling out bad actors and the bad action that has occurred throughout the history of the United States.”
Anna Heffron, a medical student and delegate from Wisconsin, speaking on her own behalf, said she did not believe police officers “are bad people.” Yet members of her family worked in law enforcement and “left due to the trauma of what they were made to be part of,” she said. “Law enforcement officers are good people, but they are working within a broken system, that requires that they actively harm people in their communities causing terrible damage to their communities and themselves,” she said.
The proposed policy on police brutality doesn’t need more study; it already includes 26 references, she said. “This is an important issue. We need to change it for our communities and our officers themselves.”