Social control on black Baltimoreans must be made more transparent

I applaud the Maryland Court of Appeals' ruling that state police must give the NAACP access to internal affairs files on racial profiling complaints ("State police must turn over racial profiling complaints to the NAACP," Jan. 24). These cases represent a larger pattern of social control on black Baltimoreans that must be made more transparent.

Despite declining crime rates nationally, prisons claim astronomical budgets and disproportionately affect black men. When prisoners are released, many endure a lifetime label that strips them of fundamental rights and leaves them to face job discrimination, ineligibility for public housing and food stamps and other injustices. 

As a resident physician who treats children and adults, I regularly see the deleterious effects these structural forces have on families. Too many Baltimore youth are apprehended by the police in racist stop-and-frisk programs, only to leave them traumatized, distrustful of authorities, and with a poorer sense of self-worth. Too many families are torn apart. Too many individuals, recently incarcerated, are unable to care for themselves or their loved ones because they are denied the services they need. 

In the hospital and clinic, I screen my pediatric and adult patients for prior encounters with the police. I ask if they have been stopped, frisked, pulled over or otherwise apprehended. Just as smoking is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, these encounters confer risk for social isolation, disenfranchisement and worsened health. As doctors, it is our responsibility to provide our patients with anticipatory guidance that will educate them about this process and their rights, for the sake of their health and that of their families. It is also our responsibility to advocate for social policies that give our patients the best chance to live more healthy, productive and dignified lives.

Benjamin Oldfield

The writer is an internal medicine/pediatrics resident physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

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