Black Lives Matter: Racism as a Public Health Crisis

We are outraged and saddened by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks. Their deaths are endemic to the crisis of police brutality and structural racism in this country. We also remember and honor the lives of our Black neighbors and community members who were killed by police here in Washington: Charleena Lyles, Manuel Ellis, Che Taylor, Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens and many others.

As public health advocates and as a health center dedicated to serving our communities and promoting health equity for all, we are committed to challenging racism and the system that upholds it. We stand in solidarity with those calling for racial justice, police accountability and criminal justice reform. We stand in solidarity with our Black family members, colleagues, friends and communities to say enough is enough. Black Lives Matter.

ICHS reaffirms its birthright as an organization founded to assure access to quality health care for those who need it. We recommit ourselves to dismantling systemic racism that manifests as health inequities and police violence as well as anti-Blackness in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in which we are rooted.

Racism is a public health crisis

Improving health outcomes requires addressing structural barriers and circumstances that harm our patients and communities. Long-standing systems of oppression and bias have subjected Black Americans and other people of color to decreased access to medical care and healthy food, mass incarceration, exposure to pollution, housing discrimination, and the toxic effects of stress and trauma.

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the physical and financial health of minorities, especially Black Americans, Latinos and Pacific Islanders. Black Americans suffer lower life expectancy, higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, higher rates of diabetes and asthma, and many other chronic health conditions.

Our legacy emboldens and obliges us to fight for justice

International Community Health Services was formed 47 years ago by community activists inspired by the struggle for racial justice by Black civil rights leaders. Since the beginning, our mission was as much about treating underserved Asian immigrants living in the International District as it was interrupting the systemic racism that denied health to communities of color. But we have grown to embrace and serve all marginalized peoples.

Today, we serve over 32,000 patients in the Puget Sound area of all backgrounds and identities, regardless of who they are, where they come from or their ability to pay. We remain committed to speaking out and fighting for greater health equity.

We are inspired by Black leadership and Black organizations leading this monumental call for racial justice across the country. We commit to expanding our partnerships with other communities of color and taking bold steps to dismantle systemic racism.

We demand that the City of Seattle and Washington state commit to:

  • Upholding the right to protest and allowing protesters to gather
  • Committing to broad and immediate investments in addressing social determinants of health
  • Making bold investments in community-led public safety initiatives, including mental health and crisis intervention teams
  • Bold investments expanding health access to communities of color and addressing health disparities against Black Americans
  • Banning the use of military equipment by police and demilitarizing police tactics and culture
  • Not detaining protesters in confined spaces, including jails or police vans, which are some of the highest-risk areas for COVID-19
  • The permanent ban of chemical weapons, including tear gas, a dangerous respiratory weapon banned by the Geneva Convention
  • Banning the use of dangerous and unnecessary carotid or neck restraints, also known as choke holds, by police
  • Reforming law enforcement agencies and the practice of policing through community oriented and led investments
  • Requiring comprehensive reporting of acts of police violence

Dismantling racism also requires addressing anti-Blackness in the AAPI community

As an organization rooted in the AAPI community, to dismantle systemic racism we must also commit to the honest work of examining our own racial biases and privileges. Anti-Blackness is a foundational component of white supremacy, and non-Black communities of color may find conversations about anti-Blackness uncomfortable or unnecessary. That’s why they are so critical.

We all benefit from the hard-won victories by the Black community in the civil rights movement. The first activists who started the International District Clinic were inspired, mentored and joined by Black community activists and Black leaders. The Black community stood by us in fighting for our community.

International Community Health Services is committed to being a part of constructive and meaningful dialogue on the impact of systemic racism and how we can work together to advance health equity through racial equity. It is our time to show up for the Black Lives Matter movement.


Adopted by the ICHS board of directors on 6/24/2020.