CRANSTON, RI — Cranston's city council took a step towards addressing systemic inequalities Monday, unanimously approving a resolution declaring racism a public health issue in the city.
"Systemic racism is real and it corrupts our institutions in the ways we see all around us," said John Donegan, a first-term council member who represents Ward 3. The resolution was introduced by him and fellow Councilor Aneice Germain, who represents Ward 2. "These inequities run deep into the foundations of this country, and prevent, for too many, the realization of the promises which our nation was founded upon."
Census data shows inequalities in the city, particularly in Ward 3, where Black, Indigenous, and People of Color make up a larger percentage of the population than the city as a whole. Data shows that these groups are more likely to not have a college degree, have a lower income and have higher rates of uninsurance, unemployment and homeownership.
"It is incumbent upon elected officials at every level of government to pursue anti-racist policies and eradicate systems of racism within our communities. Passing this resolution is a very small step in the process of working towards undoing systemic racism," Donegan said.
Citywide, data shows that people of color have higher rates of poverty, the councilors explained. From 2010-14, approximately 14 percent of Black and Asian households and 18 percent of Hispanic households were below the poverty line.
In terms of housing, 70 percent of white households own and live in their own home, compared to less than 50 percent of Black and Hispanic households.
"Systemic racism is a root cause of many of the challenges and barriers experienced by people and communities of color," said citywide council candidate Larry Warner, pointing out that the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. "For example, among cases where race and ethnicity is known, African-Americans represent 12 percent of COVID-19 cases statewide, when African-Americans make up only 6.5 percent of our population. Likewise, Latinos represent 46 percent of COVID-19 cases statewide, while Latinos make up only 13.2 percent of our population."
The resolution aligns with the work being done through the city's Health Equity Zone and the OneCranston initiatives, said Warner, who is the co-chair the Rhode Island Commission for Health Advocacy and Equity.
"Whether measured by disparities in health outcomes or educational achievement, the impact of racist policies and discriminatory practices is unequal opportunities for success," he said. "Acknowledging that systemic racism exists, and formalizing the city’s commitment to racial justice is an important step toward creating an equitable city."
Germain said the resolution shows the council's "commitment to prioritizing racial equity in our decision-making processes," as well as acknowledges the unfair economic, social and environmental burdens placed on these communities.
"Racial equity is realized when and only when race can no longer be used to predict life outcomes," she said. "We are committed to this work, and welcome all voices to the table as we seek to undo elements of systemic racism in Cranston."
Councilor Lammis Vargas, who represents Ward 1, said systemic racism is far from a new issue in Cranston or the country, and called for the city to create a task force dedicated to come up with "policies and actionable recommendations" to address disparities of health and equity.
"The residents of Ward 1 know that racism is a public health emergency that we must address if we are to truly have the United States live up to its creed of liberty and justice for all," Vargas said.
"As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever, we see that people of color are disproportionately getting sicker and dying faster ... Together, we must take action, and soon."