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ACP Reaffirms Its Stance on Hate Crimes as a Public Health Issue

Internists urged to reach out to those suffering medical effects of hate-related violence

Sept. 8, 2017 (ACP) -- As violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va., in mid-August, propelling hate crimes back into the national conversation, the American College of Physicians did not take a seat on the sidelines. Rather, the College stepped forward to help call attention to the public health effects of hate crimes.

ACP had adopted a position statement recognizing hate crimes as a public health issue at a meeting of the Board of Regents earlier in the summer, and the College publicly reinforced its stance with a news release issued immediately after the Charlottesville rally and counter-protest turned violent. Protesters aimed to block the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and counter-protesters took to the streets in response.

According to a report from the scene filed by a Washington Post reporter, "chaos and violence turned to tragedy ... as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members -- planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to "take America back" -- clashed with counter-protesters in the streets and a car plowed into crowds, leaving one person dead and 19‚ÄČothers injured." A self-proclaimed Nazi sympathizer subsequently was arrested and charged with murder in the death of the 32-year-old woman who was killed when the man's car allegedly was driven intentionally into a crowd of counter-protesters, the Post reported.

ACP's president, Dr. Jack Ende, urged physicians to speak out against hate, hate crimes and those who foster or perpetrate such hate. Hate crimes are criminal acts directed at people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or other characteristics.

Ende, who watched the violence in Charlottesville unfold on TV, was widely quoted on CNN and in other media reports, including in the Detroit News, the Boston Globe and Modern Healthcare.

"I was shocked to see what was going on," he told CNN. "Is it appropriate for a medical organization to take a stance on hate crimes? The American College of Physicians said, 'Yes, it was.'"

"We know that if you are a victim of a hate crime or living in a neighborhood with high rates of hate crimes, you are at greater risk for psychological and physical issues, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and cardiovascular mortality," he said. "This makes hate crimes an important public health issue."

The College is not alone in its position. The American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians also have issued policy statements on hate crime as a public health issue.

"It is the natural evolution of medical knowledge and cultural sensitivity," Ende said. "We know more than we did 10 to 15 years ago and have so much more experience with horrific events in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Muslim and other communities."

As a result, the College is calling for more research on the impact of hate crimes and enhanced efforts to address the needs of hate crime survivors and their communities.

"We need more research to determine if this is getting worse or staying the same, as well as more information on all of the medical implications associated with hate crimes," Ende said.

In the interim, everyone needs to do their part, he said.

"Internists can reach out to communities that are known to be targets of hate crime and offer support and/or medical services," he said. "As an individual physician, when taking care of someone who is a member of an ethnic or religious group, a political refuge or another group known to be victims of hate crimes, be sensitive that they are carrying an additional burden and adopt a lower threshold for diagnosing stress, depression and other conditions that tend to occur more frequently in these groups."

More Information

ACP's public statement after the Charlottesville violence and the College's position statement on hate crimes as a public health issue are available on the ACP website.

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