A study of nearly 1,900 fatal police encounters and California birth records suggests that police killings of unarmed black people may affect the health of black infants before they are born, the Los Angeles Times reports. Pregnant black women who lived near the site of officer-involved fatalities had babies sooner than mothers who weren’t exposed to such incidents during their pregnancies, researchers found. Those infants had significantly lower birth weights — a risk factor for future health problems. The findings, published in Science Advances, point to ways police killings of unarmed blacks affect the community at large, even over multiple generations.
After well-publicized police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice and others, scientists have begun to explore how such violence ripples beyond the original victim. A study published last year linked police killings of unarmed black men with an increase in mental health problems for blacks in the same state. Joscha Legewie, a sociologist at Harvard University, collaborated on a study in the American Sociological Review that linked aggressive policing surges by the New York Police Department to poorer test scores for the African-American students in areas the police targeted. In the California study, Legewie examined 3.9 million California birth records from 2007 to 2016, including more than 246,000 for black infants. He combined this data with records from the Fatal Encounters database, a journalist-led system that collects information on police violence. A total of 1,891 officer-involved killings in Caifornia between 2005 and 2017 were included in the analysis; 164 cases involved unarmed black victims. Legewie discovered that when an unarmed black person was killed within a kilometer of a black woman’s home during the first or second trimester of pregnancy, her infant’s birth weight was significantly lower compared with black mothers who were not exposed to such events.