Cities Are Declaring Racism As A Public Health Crisis, But Some Don’t Think It’s Enough

Nurses and healthcare workers attend a Black Lives Matter rally in front of Bellevue Hospital on June 4, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Cities Are Declaring Racism As A Public Health Crisis, But Some Don’t Think It’s Enough

Systemic racism is still prevalent in many communities, oftentimes manifesting in poor health care for the most vulnerable in Black neighborhoods.

Published 2 weeks ago

Written by Paul Meara

George Floyd and the myriad of other cases involving Black people dying at the hands of police has sparked many cities to take action.

Since 2019, The American Public Health Association reports that approximately 70 cities, three dozen counties, and three states have declared racism a public health crisis. However, many still believe it’s still not nearly enough.

The Associated Press recently profiled Christy Diablerie, a 29-year-old Black woman, who sought a coronavirus test at a New York emergency room and upon inquiring received wrong information about her health status. After a nurse said she didn’t have a fever, she appealed to a doctor of color to check it again: it read 101 degrees.

“We know our pain is questioned and our pain is not real to them,” Diablerie said, who later created a group for Black COVID-19 survivors. “Getting medical help shouldn’t be discouraging for anyone. It is a discouraging place for Black people.”

It’s already known that communities of color have been hit by the coronavirus much harder than their white counterparts. However, examples of racial inequity play out, even in how the disease is communicated to different populations, is starkly different as well.

Local leaders say formally acknowledging the role racism plays in not only health care, but in housing, the environment, policing and food access is a bold step. Still, these types of declarations are symbolic to many skeptics.

RELATED: Sen. Kamala Harris Introduces New Bill To Create Coronavirus Racial Disparity Task Force

According to the AP, Kansas City and Indianapolis have used their pronouncements to calculate how to dispense public funding. The mayor of predominantly white Holyoke, Massachusetts used a declaration to make Juneteenth a paid city employee holiday. In Minnesota, their House of Representatives passed a resolution vowing to “actively participate in the dismantling of racism.” Wisconsin’s governor has made a verbal commitment, while governors in Nevada and Michigan signed public documents.

“It is only after we have fully defined the injustice that we can begin to take steps to replace it with a greater system of justice that enables all Michiganders to pursue their fullest dreams and potential,” Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said in a statement.

In Los Angeles, Efuru Flowers, the co-founder of Black Women Rally for Action, called her city’s 2019 declaration problematic. 

“It does not promote the urgency of eliminating racism in all its forms,” said Flowers. “It doesn’t promote or enlist citizens to join the effort.”

Black residents in LA make up 8 percent of Los Angeles County and 42 percent of the homeless population, however, their city’s equality training guidelines for city employees don’t specifically mention Black people by race. Some are hoping to change that and racial inequities across America.

In Chicago, a coalition of hospitals and community clinics created a city study that showed chronic disease and gun violence are top causes for the almost nine-year gap in life expectancy between Black and white residents.

Access to care is one of the group’s biggest hurdles as one of Chicago’s oldest hospitals that serve predominantly Black, Hispanic, elderly, and low-income patients are closing. 

“The reality is that we helped create some of these structural barriers,” Brenda Battle, vice president of the University of Chicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative, said, according to the AP. “We are the ones who have the ability to influence access to health care services. We have not effectively ensured that everybody has access.”

Diablerie is encouraged by the efforts but is still skeptical. 

“I would only believe it when it comes from the mouths of patients who are Black,” she said. “Those are the only people who would be able to tell you that something has changed.”

Photo: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

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