ROCKVILLE, MD — The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday introduced a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis.
Councilmember Will Jawando, who is black, spearheaded the resolution — which he says will help address glaring racial disparities in health, housing, criminal justice, and other sectors of society.
"Racial segregation and discrimination has real consequences on the health and quality of life of those impacted," Jawando said, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Racism causes persistent discrimination and inequitable outcomes in many areas of American life."
The resolution comes as protests over George Floyd's death continue around the world. In recent weeks, Montgomery County — a minority-majority jurisdiction with roughly 1.1 million residents — has played host to a number of peaceful demonstrations in which protesters demanded police accountability and justice for Floyd, whose fatal arrest was recorded on a bystander's now-viral cellphone video.
Speaking candidly about Floyd's death, Jawando said the country is "rightly protesting one of the most pernicious and abhorrent forms of systemic racism — police violence."
"It took eight minutes and 46 seconds to feel not even an iota of pain (Floyd) felt as he died before our eyes and before the eyes of the nation and the world. Breonna Taylor, Robert White — here in Silver Spring, Sandra Bland, Finan Berhe, and so many other black men and women who die at the hands of police officers at the highest rates of anyone in our nation."
Systematic racism — and the havoc it wreaks on communities of color — comes in many other forms, Jawando said.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again — we die in many ways," he explained. "Whether it's in hospitals where black women die giving birth at three times the rate of white women, regardless of their income or level of education ... or it's living in poorly maintained communities as a result of government-sanctioned redlining ... or environmental racism that leads to higher asthma rates and pedestrian fatalities in our communities because a lack of investment in infrastructure."
The coronavirus pandemic, he added, is yet another health disparity plaguing communities of color: "Disparities in health outcomes have been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic, as African Americans have the highest number of recorded cases and deaths. This is true across the United States, in the state of Maryland and in Montgomery County, where African Americans account for 25 percent of the deaths, despite being 19 percent of the county's population.
The resolution, which is backed by all nine members of the county council, lists 13 action steps for elected officials to follow, including:
- Asserting that racism is a public health crisis and committing to better understand how racism has influenced past work
- Becoming an equity and justice-oriented organization
- Promoting racial equity and social justice through all policies, as well as educating and training council staff on how racism can affect health care, the delivery of human and social services, economic development, and public safety
- Advocating locally and nationally for policies that improve health in communities of color and dismantle systemic racism
- Solidifying partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encouraging other local, state, regional, andnational entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis
- Collaborating with local communities to find more ways to counter systemic injustices