• Sat. Apr 1st, 2023

Racism declared a public health crisis in Cincinnati

State and local officials join Cincinnati City Councilmembers Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney (at podium), Wendell Young and P.G. Sittenfeld (both at right, in their introduction of legislation that would declare systemic racism a public health crisis in the city. Photo provided

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Ohio and Hamilton County legislators stood with Councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young, and Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney as they unveiled a resolution at a news conference at Mitchell Triangle in North Avondale on July 22. The resolution declares systemic racism a public health crisis. They stated that  there are systems and policies in place that create or maintain racial inequalities, and these disparities permeate almost every facet of life. 

Based on research provided to the state, county and city from The Center for Closing the Health Gap and other resources, the Ohio Senate and House began holding public hearings last month on two bills that would declare racism a public health crisis in the state, and two weeks ago, County Commissioner Victoria Parks passed a similar resolution for Hamilton County. City Council will vote on the councilmembers’ resolution when Council is back in session in August.

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, in its report “The State of Black Cincinnati, 2015, Two Cities,” states racism leads to Cincinnati’s Black residents experiencing dramatically higher unemployment rates and lower average household incomes. It also leads to Black residents living in neighborhoods with low performing schools and experiencing disproportionately higher incarceration rates.

The resolution states that by declaring racism a public health crisis, the city would institute minority business inclusion requirements, ongoing reforms to police-community relations, change bail practices for offenses prosecuted by the City of Cincinnati’s Law Department, provide financial support for minority-owned businesses and repeal outdated criminalization of drug offenses. They will also look at disparities in housing and health. 

“Many other organizations have begun this work in various areas, so we can support some of the ongoing efforts, and well as make new strides where necessary,” said Councilmember Kearney   

The resolution notes that a number of national and local health organizations and virtually all evidence-based organizations assert that racism in America negatively impacts the public health outcomes of minority citizens through the institutional and interpersonal discrimination and disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, education, employment, transportation, health and criminal justice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that “The conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life, including economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems” and these social determinants of health are all affected by racism in our local community and beyond. 

The Cincinnati Health Department documents that the average life expectancy can vary dramatically for minority residents in comparison to White residents, and infant mortality rates are double for Black residents in comparison to White residents. 

“The City of Cincinnati has committed itself to fighting and addressing inequities within its own system, by adopting a “Health in All Policies” framework; instituting minority business inclusion requirements; implementing ongoing reforms to police-community relations; changing its bail practices for offenses prosecuted by the City of Cincinnati’s Law Department; providing financial support for minority-owned businesses; and repealing outdated criminalization of drug offenses; and more — but also recognizes that much more action is critically necessary,’’ the authors state in the resolution.

City Council members expressed their support for using a racial equity lens to assess City policies and practices, including in contexts such as hiring, promotion, leadership appointments, and funding, to the extent legally permissible.