Kalamazoo County declares racism a public health crisis

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Racism is now considered a public health crisis in Kalamazoo County.

The county Board of Commissioners approved a resolution (PDF) to apply the label during a virtual meeting Tuesday night.

The commissioner who introduced the resolution, Stephanie Moore, said people dealing with structural racism have the worst health outcomes. Her measure looks to acknowledge and address the issue.

“Through county government, we are the heartbeat for health and human services,” Moore said. “We have to acknowledge that systemic racism exists, what we can do to dismantle that so that we can get better health outcomes for the people in our community.”

Moore said it’s an issue that has only been made more apparent during the coronavirus outbreak. County data shows that black people have been disproportionately affected.

“We have a higher rate of actually becoming positive with COVID-19 and our outcomes are even more disparate than others in terms of dying at a much higher rate,” Moore said.

The statistics on COVID-19 and race are reflected statewide. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist is heading up a task force looking at why and coming up with solutions.

Though commissioners discussed the measure at length for hours before passing the resolution with a 9-2 vote, there’s still a lot to be decided when it comes to how this resolution will be carried out.

But by declaring racism a public health crisis, the county is committing itself to reviewing policies and procedures that allow for the health disparities to exist and involving the county’s equity task force to play some role in coming up with solutions.

Another resolution passed at Tuesday’s meeting aims to end police brutality. The measure was also introduced by Moore, who said the national conversation about police brutality resonates at the local level.

“We even have situations here locally in Kalamazoo County where people are not being treated fairly,” Moore said. “…There has been many instances of excessive force and typically against people of color and people in urban communities and what we want to clearly say is no more. We have to put an end to it.”

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