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June 23/30, 2015
On April 12, 2015, a 25-year-old African American man named Freddie Gray was fatally injured while in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland. His death a week later, on April 19, sparked wide protests about racism, social inequality, and injustice in the United States, coming as it did after the deaths of other African American men around the country. On April 27, the protests in Baltimore led to the destruction of property, fires, and civil unrest.
There are many ways to understand what is happening in Baltimore and, to varying degrees, across the United States. The problems reflect a long-standing dysfunctional relationship between law enforcement and citizens, structural poverty, and the legacy of discrimination in housing and finance policy.1 The problems also deeply engage public health—in addressing immediate needs, in understanding the basis of unrest, and in shaping long-term solutions.
In Baltimore, during the riots and subsequent demonstrations, the Health Department coordinated the readiness and security of area hospitals and health care facilities. The Health Department provided situational updates for hospital emergency planners and led the development of a citywide security plan for hospitals. In the aftermath of the violence, the Health Department—with the assistance of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene—established a hotline for citizens whose access to medications was disrupted by the destruction and closing of more than a dozen city pharmacies. To reach those most in need, the Health Department led door-to-door outreach in public housing for seniors in affected areas and facilitated transfers of prescriptions to other pharmacies and delivery of medications.