Posted on October 8, 2020

Cities Declare Racism a Health Crisis, but Some Doubt Impact

Sophia Taren, Associated Press, October 5, 2020

Christy DeGallerie noticed a startling trend in her online group for coronavirus survivors: White patients got medications she’d never heard of, were offered X-rays and their doctors listened to their concerns.

That wasn’t her experience. {snip}


Addressing experiences like DeGallerie’s has become a priority for a growing number of local governments, many responding to a pandemic that’s amplified racial disparities and the call for racial justice after the police killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans. Since last year, about 70 cities, roughly three dozen counties and three states have declared racism a public health crisis, according to the American Public Health Association.

Local leaders say formally acknowledging the role racism plays not just in health care but in housing, the environment, policing and food access is a bold step, especially when it wasn’t always a common notion among public health experts. But what the declarations do to address systemic inequalities vary widely, with skeptics saying they are merely symbolic.

Kansas City, Missouri, and Indianapolis used their declarations to calculate how to dispense public funding. The mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, a mostly white community of roughly 40,000, used a declaration to make Juneteenth a paid city employee holiday. The Minnesota House passed a resolution vowing to “actively participate in the dismantling of racism.” Wisconsin’s governor made a verbal commitment, while governors in Nevada and Michigan signed public documents.


Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County takes credit for being the first with its May 2019 order. It acted because of sobering health disparities in Wisconsin’s most populous county, where nearly 70% of the state’s Black residents live. It’s the only county with a significantly higher poverty rate than the state average, 17.5% compared with 10.8% statewide, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison report.

County officials developed a “racial equity budget tool,” requiring departments to explain plans to hire and retain a diverse workforce and how budgets affect disadvantaged communities.


Kansas City was another early adopter in August 2019. {snip}

For instance, when the city approved a $2 million pandemic relief plan, more money went to areas with more Black residents, who have been hit disproportionately hard by the virus, instead of being divided equally among ZIP codes.


Officials in Indianapolis approved a resolution in June, and departments proposing budgets now must answer questions like: “How does compensation and level of authority compare between white and minority employees?”


To some, the efforts fall short.

Some clergy called the Indianapolis resolution “meaningless.”


Efuru Flowers, co-founder of Black Women Rally for Action, called Los Angeles’ 2019 declaration problematic.

The city offers guidelines, including equality training for city employees. While it notes disparities, like Black residents making up 8% of Los Angeles County but 42% of the homeless population, the solutions don’t specifically mention Black people.

“It does not promote the urgency of eliminating racism in all its forms,” said Flowers, who started her Los Angeles County organization after a 2019 health report card revealed poor outcomes for Black women. {snip}