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Lethality of racism for Black children in the USA: a primer
  1. Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako1,
  2. Eugenia C South2,
  3. Heather H Burris3,4
  1. 1 Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  2. 2 Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  3. 3 Pediatrics, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  4. 4 Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Heather H Burris, Pediatrics, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; burrish{at}

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In 1969, Deborah Johnson, a Black, pregnant woman in Chicago, witnessed the murder of 21-year-old Fred Hampton, her sleeping fiancé, by law enforcement. Hampton, a rising leader in the Black Panther Party, had been the target of Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance. Two years prior, the Panthers introduced the Ten-Point Program which broadly demanded economic justice, decarceration, social liberation for Black people, and specifically called for the ‘immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people’. Over 50 years later, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020, demonstrated that racism continues to kill. The demands that preceded Hampton’s assassination mirror those of the present-day Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality, structural racism and anti-Blackness.

For children, the violence of racism in the USA can take the form of police killings as it did for 12-year-old Tamir Rice (shot by police while holding a toy gun in 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio) or from a slow, chronic, wear-and-tear process1 that begins in utero, as might have been the case for Johnson and Hampton’s unborn son. Fred Hampton Jr would grow to face structural barriers including incarceration, and is now an activist for prisoners’ rights. Structural racism can be defined as differential access to resources and opportunities by race as well as policies, laws and practices that reinforce racial inequity. Stressors such as poverty, discrimination, lack of access to high-quality healthcare and education, as well as environmental toxicants such as air pollution and lead, are not evenly distributed throughout populations; …

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  • Twitter @hhburris

  • Contributors HHB cowrote the manuscript with MJNT. ECS helped with the conceptual framework and critically edited the manuscript. All authors approved the submitted version.

  • Funding HHB is supported by the Department of Pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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