Almost two months following the death of George Floyd, whose killing at the hands of Minneapolis police galvanized a nationwide uprising, the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution recognizing racism as a public health crisis.
Passed on Friday, the city council’s resolution names racism as a public health emergency and cites various national and local statistics highlighting the deep racial divide when it comes to health and safety outcomes, reports CBS News.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey emphasized the necessity of such a resolution in a Friday press release.
“Systemic racism is among the greatest long-term threats our city and nation are facing, and the last two months have made that reality painfully clear,” the mayor stressed. “For Minneapolis to be a place where everyone can live and thrive, we must recognize this crisis for what it is and approach policymaking with the urgency it deserves.”
“The passing of this resolution means that we as local elected officials understand that antiracism must be centered in all that we do as we work to ensure that Minneapolis is at the forefront of achieving racial equity,” added City Council member Phillipe Cunningham.
The resolution noted that the city ranks “as one of the worst regions for racial gaps in homeownership, poverty, median income and obtaining a high school diploma,” writes CBS News. It also pays specific attention to how the criminal justice system exacerbates these inequities.
Before the resolution’s passage, more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for racism to be recognized as a public health emergency. The petition, initiated by the Minneapolis-based art advocacy group Emergency Arts, cited the city’s own Strategic and Racial Equity Action Plan and the City Council’s definition of racial equity to call elected official into account.
The document calls for decarceration, reducing cash bail and reserving arrests only for violent and major crimes. In order to make these policies viable, the resolution also calls for the development of new rapid response protocols: it specifically named the existing Office of Emergency Management and Incident Command System, the Health Department, the Division of Race & Equity, and other public-facing departments as departments that could more appropriately tackle stress and trauma within the city’s disadvantaged communities.
Minneapolis joins dozens of cities that have passed resolutions recognizing racism as a public health crisis. Smaller cities like Hamden, Conn., Burlington, Vt., well as larger municipalities, like the city of Los Angeles, Allegheny County, Milwaukee and San Bernardino County have passed similar resolutions.
Across the country, these resolutions are seen as necessary first steps to start addressing the roots of systemic racism, as well as an acknowledgment of its broader implications.
As Sharrelle Barber, a Drexel University assistant professor of epidemiology, recently explained to Smithsonian Magazine, “The charge of public health is really to prevent disease, prevent death, and you prevent those things by having a proper diagnosis of why certain groups might have higher rates of mortality, higher rates of morbidity, et cetera.”
She described the nation’s housing, criminal justice, education and healthcare systems as “interlocking systems of racism” that drive the racial inequities seen in Black Americans. By framing these destructive systems as a public health issue, it takes the emphasis away from personal responsibility to focused, specific policy solutions.
“If your orientation is, ‘Oh, it’s a personal responsibility’ or ‘It’s behavioral,’ then you create messages to black communities to say, ‘Wash your hands; wear a mask,’ and all of these other things that, again, do not address the fundamental structural drivers of the inequities,” Barber explained. “That’s why it’s a public health issue because if public health is designed to prevent disease, prevent suffering, then you have to address racism to have the biggest impact.”