Environmental activists may not seem like the most likely allies for police brutality protestors who, in recent months, have been participating in riots, protests, die-ins, and social media campaigns in response to recent killings of unarmed black men by white police officers. But, on the contrary, a long history of ties exists between the civil rights movement and some fraction of the environmental movement.

Slogans of recent movements against police brutality -- including “I Can’t Breath” and “Black Lives Matter” — are a testament to the parallels between themes in the movement against policy brutality and those in environmental movements.  

“I can’t breath has a double meaning; it’s not only about the increased repression that is being expressed in communities of color. It’s also about the deepening ecological crisis that literally — because of the concentration of polluting facilities — people can’t breathe; black, Latino and Asian Americans breathe different air than white Americans,” says environmental researcher at Northeastern University, Dr. Daniel Faber. 

In fact, according to recent studies, environmental pollution in Massachusetts affects communities of color at 20 times the rate it affects white communities. This issue is particularly prominent in Massachusetts.

WGBH News’ Science Editor Dr. Heather Goldstone says that recent reports by Dr. Faber and colleagues found that in Massachusetts, low income communities bear about four times the environmental burden of higher income communities. More specifically, communities where 15 percent or more of the population is non-white bear more than 20 times the environmental burden of white communities. Those communities also see more than 10 times as much chemical pollution released into the environment every year.

But to Dr. Goldstone, the most shocking statistic is this: there are 48 hazardous waste sites per square mile in communities of color as opposed to an average of just 2 in white communities.

Dr. Goldstone adds that the already-massive disparity is widening. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace have expressed support for groups and individuals protesting police brutality against minorities. 

You can listen to the full interview between WGBH's Morning Edition host Bob Seay and WGBH's Science Editor Heather Goldstone above. Also discussed: