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Environmental Racism, Police Brutality: Intertwined Issues of Violence

Washington state has created a map that breaks down racial health disparities due to environmental conditions. (Washington State Department of Health)
Washington state has created a map that breaks down racial health disparities due to environmental conditions. (Washington State Department of Health)
June 4, 2020

SEATTLE -- Environmental groups are joining the chorus of voices denouncing police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police in in Minneapolis.

Some see environmental harm and police violence aimed at communities of color as inseparable issues.

Research finds communities of color and under-resourced communities are more likely to be located near hazardous waste sites and subjected to pollution.

Rev. Herbert Carey at To God Be The Glory House of Worship in Kent says these same communities also are subject to harsher treatment by the criminal justice system.

"Environmental justice and police brutality are moral issues of violence, and it is in the poor and underprivileged area that all of this takes place," he points out.

Carey says environmental hazards create health disparities for communities of color. People of color are more likely to suffer from asthma, low birth weights and other effects associated with environmental risk factors.

Susan Balbas is board president of the environmental justice group Front and Centered in Washington state. She says one issue hangs over both environmental racism and police brutality.

"They're all connected to white supremacy and institutional racism, which is built into our system," she states.

Balbas says policy change and more resources are needed to help correct some of these disparities.

Washington state has created a map of health disparities that Balbas says will be instrumental and guiding changes going forward.

But she also notes the voices of people of color often aren't heard in discussions about policy.

"It's getting leaders from communities of color at the decision making table, and then that's how we begin to shift," she stresses. "We shift the narrative, we shift the understanding, and we shift policy and we shift resource allocation."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA