Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Oakland has declared a new public health crisis in the Californian city: racism.
Last week, members of the Oakland City Council voted unopposed to declare a public health crisis and commit to working on studies and actions that advance racial equity.
“Just because we’re supposed to be progressive or anything doesn’t mean we don’t have a history of disenfranchisement, of systemic racism, that’s embedded in our municipal services and our culture,” said the council member Carroll Fife during the Tuesday Town Council.
The resolution also sets aside up to $350,000 in the city’s budget for a data analyst and consulting services to support the government as it works on “necessary improvements to data collection and processing systems to track performance and progress on equity”.
Darlene Flynn, executive director of the city’s Department of Race and Equity, said in an interview with KRON 4 television that the COVID-19 pandemic has made racial disparities in Oakland and across the country more visible.
“It also tends to exacerbate the impacts on communities that are already stressed by racial inequality, and we’ve seen this in other disasters as well, like Hurricane Katrina,” Flynn said. “Any time a big stressor hits a community, it really highlights underlying conditions for a long time.”
Other cities have taken similar action. In the summer of 2020, then-Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declared racism a public health crisis and reallocated $3 million from the city’s police department to public health.
Last year, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called racism a serious threat to public health.
According to an Agenda report by Flynn and other city officials, Oakland residents of color tend to face poorer health outcomes than their white peers.
Residents of the hills of North Oakland — a historically white neighborhood — live an average of 14 to 15 years longer than residents of the historically black and Latino neighborhoods of West Oakland and the plains of East Oakland, according to the report.
“Similar disparities between black Oaklanders and their white peers can be seen in preventable hospitalizations, rates of diabetes, asthma, hypertension and heart disease, death rates from opioid overdose, babies born with very low birth weight, infant mortality and beyond,” the officials added.