“It’s distressing, but I’m not surprised,” says Paula Braveman, director of the Center on Social Disparities in Health at UC San Francisco. Birth weight and gestational age are important predictors of both infant health and lifetime health. Low birth weight and preterm births are associated with physical and mental developmental problems. They can lead to the early onset of chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. “If you start off as preterm or low birthweight, you have so many strikes against you,” says Braveman. “There’s only so much catching up that you can do.” Braveman’s work has produced similar findings, which suggest that black mothers’ chronic stress over racism could contribute to health disparities between black and white infants.Last year, the American Public Health Association designated law enforcement violence a public health concern. One 2018 study found that shootings hurt black men’s mental health. “Gun violence, segregation, these things have not traditionally been public health issues. But there’s been a growing call for people to understand that everyday life affects your health,” says Margaret Hicken, a public health researcher at the University of Michigan.
Getting shot is undoubtedly bad for your health. Connecting police shootings with community health, however, is more complicated. When Legewie examined his data set, he tried to account for other factors that might affect the birth metrics, such as neighborhood violence and race. He compared nearly 250,000 black births with more than a million white and 2 million Hispanic births. White and Hispanic infants didn’t seem to be affected, and police shootings of unarmed victims of other races didn’t produce a strong effect either. He also didn’t find the same impacts when the black victims were armed.
Legewie even examined siblings, comparing women who had two pregnancies, one that coincided with a nearby police shooting and one that did not. He found that even in the same families, babies in utero close to a police shooting had worse outcomes than their siblings.