“George Floyd would still be breathing right now if it weren’t for racism,” Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8) said.
Systemic racism has been a defining characteristic of the United States before the nation even existed, Jenkins said, and if people aren’t working against it, they can become complicit. Built-in inequalities must be fought against, she said, and naming racism as a public health crisis begins to address some of those underlying issues found in America’s criminal justice, education and housing systems.
The resolution approved by the Minneapolis City Council calls on the body to recognize “the severe impact of racism on the well-being of residents and the city overall” and to commit funding and staff to work to repair harm done to impacted communities. It calls for investments in housing, community infrastructure and small-business development for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). It also calls for creating a sustainable source for funding for youth development programming, an area in which Musicant said has seen a decline in investment since the early 2000s.
Hennepin County’s resolution directs the entity to advocate policies to improve health outcomes for BIPOC residents and gives county staff three months to create a timeline to improve service delivery for people of color and to assess internal policies to improve health outcomes in those communities.
“Ultimately this resolution is about the health and well-being of Hennepin County residents who have borne the brunt of racial discrimination and racial inequity through various different systems,” Commissioner Angela Conley (District 4) said.
Allen said the combination of COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd has created a unique opportunity to raise awareness about these discrepancies and have more white people receptive to and exhibiting understanding of the concept. Naming racism as a public health emergency raises the issue to a level at which people think about acute responses and look for long-term solutions, Allen says. She hopes it will keep the issue off the back burner.
By making racism a public health issue, more data can be brought in to identify and try to address the longstanding inequities in our society, Musicant said. The resolution reminds her of when the city declared violence a public health crisis in the mid-2000s, and she believes it will give the city an opportunity to look at a wide array of factors.
Minneapolis last completed a report on racial disparities in 2018. Musicant is hopeful that new data from the 2020 census will help update the health department’s understanding of where those discrepancies are most felt today.
Jenkins is glad that the county has also made the declaration but said it is critical for the state to get involved as well, because the issue doesn’t end at city or county lines. The Minnesota House passed a resolution naming racism as a public health crisis statewide, but it ultimately failed in the Senate. Only Olmsted County has joined Minneapolis and Hennepin County in making such a declaration in Minnesota.
“We have to be coordinated in this,” Jenkins said.
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