It’s not that public health folks are wrong that racism and police brutality have significant public health consequences; while coronavirus has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands in a short period of time, over the long-term racism and state violence can cause even greater harm.
But here’s the thing: while it’s understandable that people want to take to the streets to protest racism and state violence, there is no epidemiological or other scientific evidence that such protests will have positive public health effects by spurring positive social and political change. Any scientist or public health expert who suggests otherwise is engaging in political and sociological speculation that is not only beyond their expertise, but that really beyond anyone’s expertise. But it’s worse when such speculation purports to be scientific, from experts whose credibility is crucial for containing the current and future pandemics.
Will the protests raise public consciousness about the pernicious effects of racism? Surely, and that will likely have positive effects. But beyond that, things are very uncertain. Will violence/rioting continue and cause a “reactionary” backlash? Will reforms advocated by protesters, such as those encompassed by the slogan “Defund the Police,” actually be enacted? If enacted, will they have positive effects on public health, or will they lead to a surge in violent criminal activity, itself a huge threat to public health and wellbeing?–it wasn’t that long ago that violent crime rates were triple what they are now, with tens of thousands more people killed and injured each year.