Government officials in Louisville are working to declare racism a public health crisis. The city has been the site of continued demonstrations protesting the murder of Breonna Taylor by police officers, and a growing number COVID-19 outbreaks – which will disproportionately impact Black people.

The Mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer, along with three Metro Council members – Keisha Dorsey, Jessica Green, and Barbara Shanklin, are the officials leading the initiative. Their decision came after a council hearing chronicling the health impacts of systemic racism.

Mayor Fischer said on Twitter: “We must have a new sense of urgency to make this declaration and do the hard work of dismantling racism and creating real transformation… I look forward to partnering with Council on this work of declaring racism as a public health emergency.”

Kendall Boyd, Louisville’s Chief Equity Officer, presented a report at the hearing. His report found that Black people make up 27% of all Louisville COVID-19 deaths, despite making up only 23% of the city’s population, and that the life expectancy within the predominantly Black part of the city is about 20 years less than the predominantly white part of the city. He also spoke about “how minority populations are disproportionately exposed to conditions such as concentrated poverty, racism, limited educational and occupational opportunities, and other aspects of social and economic disadvantages that contribute to poor health outcomes, including heightened exposure to violence.”

Local governments across the country have already passed or are in the process of passing similar initiatives. These governments are from states such as California, Texas, and Georgia.

Declaring racism as a public health crisis potentially helps establish funding priorities and holds local governments accountable for addressing racism. But some residents are calling the initiative performative – not substantive.

Kendall Boyd said on the matter: “Just putting something on paper and declaring it a public health crisis is one thing… there has to be a specific intentionality and commitment of resources addressing this as a public health crisis.”

Sources: New York Times 07/30, The Hill 07/30, American Public Health Association 07/30

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