A few weeks have passed since a jury decided that there should be no indictment of Darren Wilson, the cop who repeatedly shot and killed Mike Brown, a teen in Ferguson Missouri. Following the decision, I found myself explaining the term and real phenomena of environmental justice to my colleagues. After which I went to a class, which focused on the built environment.
These three events that seem so unrelated actually have a lot of overlap and point to a real structural problem in this country. For better understanding I will begin by explaining a few terms.
Environmental Justice is a movement that began in the 1980’s when a predominately black community protested the siting of a PCB(very harmful chemical) landfill in their community. The field evolved as Robert Bullard conducted research noting that most of the landfills (very harmful, toxic places) in the United States were located in primarily black communities. Environmental Justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement for all people with regards to planning and polices related to the environment. The goal is to ensure that people live in environments that they feel are safe, nurturing, and productive.
However, environmental injustice, exist in many places in this country. In a community or city with environmental injustice a specific population like poor people or people of color may have an overwhelming burden to environmental pollutants like chemicals in the air water and soil. They may not have access to healthy food. They may not have access to health care and may have features of the community environment which make it unsafe. This compiled burden makes the situation unjust because other communities like predominately white communities may not have this same problem.
From the environmental justice movement came the term the “built environment.” The built environment refers to anything that is man-made– so the buildings we live in, parks in our neighborhoods, the way we design cities, transportation, the types of stores we have in our community, where sidewalks are located and so much more. In poorer and minority communities the built environment is not always conducive for healthy living. Much of this problem, research has shown, is structural, which means that a certain population has been oppressed to the point that it becomes difficult to get out of this hole.
Alongside this burden is administrative oppression, this is where Ferguson comes in. Ferguson is a primarily black community with primarily white cops—somewhat misplaced representation between the people who “protect” and the civilian population. This is a problem, one which is linked with an unjust environment and with a unconducive built environment.
As a public health professional I hope to bring awareness and change to the barriers that significantly affect specific groups of people. That is what public health is about—helping people have healthier, happier lives, which are not ended by others who suffer no consequence!
#JusticeforMikeBrown #JusticeforALL #PublicHealth #BlackLivesMatter
#Turning a National Negative Into a Personal Positive