L.A. City Council declares racism a public health crisis

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Racial justice protesters rally near Los Angeles City Hall on June 6, 2020. (David McNew / Getty Images)

Racial justice protesters rally near Los Angeles City Hall on June 6, 2020. (David McNew / Getty Images)

Los Angeles joined other cities across the nation in declaring racism a public health crisis, vowing to better address the systemic inequities that adversely affect Black and Latino residents’ well-being.

With a unanimous vote Thursday, the City Council adopted a resolution to “recognize racism as a root cause of poverty and constricted economic mobility.”

The measure was authored by the council’s three Black members, Herb Wesson, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

“The health disparities that we’re seeing by race is a result of our long history of systemic racism in this country,” Wesson said in a statement. “The question now becomes what we are going to do to change these systems for future generations.” 

Studies have long concluded that being Black in America is bad for your health. But dozens of cities and counties across the U.S. — and at least three states, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — have officially declared it a public health emergency this month after racial justice protesters took to streets across the nation.

According to L.A.’s motion, Black people account for about 8% of the county’s population, but 29% of inmates in county jails and 42% of people living on the streets.

And, a third of Black households spend more than half their income on rent. In South L.A., about 50% of Black households spend more than half their income on rent, officials said.

“These numbers are not a mistake,” Wesson said. “This is the system that has been designed since our country’s founding — a system built on white supremacy. The time is long overdue for a correction.”

The resolution asks city departments to review their policies and procedures “to ensure racial justice is a core element of city government.” But stops short of concrete action such as in Boston, where Mayor Marty Walsh vowed to transfer $3 million from the city’s police force to public health.

L.A.’s measure also calls for dismantling racism through strengthened community partnerships, educational efforts and racial equity training.

Within the past year, the city has also created a Department of Civil and Human Rights — which is being led by a Black woman — and an Office of Racial Equity.

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