Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, June 17, 2021
One month before the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot boldly declared that “poverty is killing us” and vowed to end it in Chicago “in the next generation.”
On Thursday, the first African American female and first openly gay mayor of Chicago made an equally bold political statement. She declared systemic racism a public health crisis.
Lightfoot said she can do nothing less after a pandemic that forced black and Hispanic Chicagoans to bear the brunt of the layoffs and deaths. It exposed Chicago’s ugly underbelly — higher crime rates in neighborhoods of color triggered, in large part by disparate access to health care, healthy food options, jobs and economic opportunity.
Lightfoot noted that “80% of health outcomes are due to social factors, including housing, safety, education, economic opportunity — every single one of which have, through our history as a nation, been impacted by systemic racism. … That’s why we’re making this declaration today. Because we can no longer allow racism to rob our residents of the opportunity to live and lead full, healthy and happy lives.”
Chicago is not the first major city to declare systemic racism a public health crisis. That distinction belongs to Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, where the trail was blazed two years ago.
Boston, Denver and Columbus, Ohio have followed suit.
The American Public Health Association also has declared racism a public health crisis needing immediate attention. So have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Pediatrics, and the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady announced that $9.6 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the CDC would be dispersed to six “Healthy Chicago Equity Zones.”
Each zone will have its own lead organization, charged with “dismantling historical inequities” that have plagued Chicago neighborhoods.
“Throughout [the pandemic], we have been led by data. We have targeted resources to the people and communities where they most needed. but we have also seen that, when one community is not well, the city is not well and cannot move ahead,” Arwady said.
“Now, we have to bring that same unrelenting focus to another more pernicious public health threat: racism.”