Mecklenburg County Commissioners declare racism a public health crisis

Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 at 11:53 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County Commissioners have unanimously passed a proclamation declaring racism a public health crisis.

In a Tuesday night meeting, commissioners started with an eight-minute, 46-second moment of silence in remembrance of George Floyd.

During the meeting, Commissioner Trevor Fuller made a motion to send the proclamation to almost every elected official in North Carolina to encourage them to adopt a similar resolution. The motion passed.

The proposed proclamation is direct. It mentions how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the African American community and how the justice system is sometimes unfair toward African Americans.

Commissioner Mark Jerrell thanked fellow commissioners and staff for addressing racial disparities. Commissioner Vilma Leake said this will help protect people of Mecklenburg County and will help address and bring change to all the issues that confront them.

The county’s proclamation states “Racism unfairly disadvantages Black and Brown individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities.”

Commissioner Susan Harden said this is one of the most important proclamations they’ve ever adopted, and said she believes this sets them on the right path.

Many hope the language is strong enough that it will make a difference. The proposed proclamation also states the difference in having a proclamation could make.

“Looking at racism in this way offers legislators, health officials, and others an opportunity to analyze data and discuss how to dismantle or change problematic institutions.”

Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said she wants to make sure this proclamation has real meaning and teeth that creates action. Commissioner Pat Cotham says the important thing is not just the proclamation, but the policies they create going forward.

Commissioner Trevor Fuller says racism is “the original sin of America” and those affects have stayed with the county to this day and events like what happened to George Floyd show it still exists. Fuller says these social determinants are what lead Floyd to even be in contact with police. He says the proclamation is for everyone, not just African-Americans because everyone benefits when racism is removed.

Earlier this week, Charlotte City Councilman Malcolm Graham said he was ready for the city to proclaim that racism is a public health crisis in Charlotte.

“This is a defining moment in our country’s history,” Graham said. “That I think we have to make a stand against racism and all its forms whether it’s racism in police departments, health care systems, educational systems - employment opportunities.”

Graham would like to see a proclamation completed soon. He said it will be done by the mayor or full council. Graham believes having a proclamation discussing racism holds city leaders accountable and forces them to consider race when making decisions.

“I think the people want us to follow those statements with action,” Graham said. “I am certainly willing to put my vote where my words are.”

Graham believes healthcare is an issue that hurts African Americans and a lack of employment opportunities.

“Making sure that our workforce reflects our community as a whole,” Graham said. “Making sure we work with our delegation to say that we want healthcare for all - Medicaid expansion.”

The Pew Charitable Trust reports that so far there are more than 20 cities and counties and three states that have declared racism as a public health crisis.

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