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Charlottesville, hate crimes are public health issue, experts say

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At least four medical groups call hate crimes a public health concern

Doctors and public health leaders weigh in on how racism and hate crimes hurt public health

CNN —  

As a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly on Saturday, doctors and public health leaders were among those watching events unfold on their television screens and social media.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, was at a car dealership getting his vehicle inspected when he saw news reports of a car plowing into a group of counterprotesters. “I was horrified,” he said.

Dr. Elizabeth Samuels, an emergency physician in New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, was closely following the events in Charlottesville from home.

“I had actually been following the news, went out for a run and saw (counterprotester) Heather (Heyer) had been killed when I got back home,” she said.

Dr. Jack Ende, president of the American College of Physicians and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, also was watching from home.

“I was shocked to see what was going on,” he said. “I was shocked and saddened.”

Benjamin, Samuels and Ende all agree that the expressions of hate seen in Charlottesville over the weekend were a public health problem.

’This is a public health issue’

Hate crimes directed at people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or other characteristics are a public health issue, according to a policy statement from the American College of Physicians that was posted on its website Monday.

“Is it appropriate for a medical organization to take a stance on hate crimes? The American College of Physicians said, ‘Yes, it was,’ ” Ende said.

“There are data indicating the public health ramifications of both the hate crime itself but also of the stigma of bias, the stigma of prejudice and hatred directed against somebody because of their sexual orientation, because of their race, because of their ethnicity or their country of origin,” he said. “For that reason, we felt that this is a public health issue, and we joined with other medical organizations to take