Racism is a Public Health Crisis in Riverside County

RIVERSIDE – In a move that Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor and Chair V. Manuel Perez said “made history,” the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, 5-0, to adopt a Resolution declaring racism and inequity as a public health crisis.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of my colleagues at this moment,” Third District Supervisor Chuck Washington, lead author of the Resolution, said. “We are arm in arm and we are moving forward together to address the needs of our residents.”

Perez, a Latino, co-authored the legislation with Washington, the only Black Supervisor.

The resolution lays bare the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and “countless Black Americans and other people of color who have been the victims of racially motivated violence.”

The death of Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis, Minn., police custody on May 25 sparked nationwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against systemic racism and police brutality.

Systemic racism “causes persistent racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, transportation, and criminal justice” and racism poses” a significant barrier to achieving health equity,” according to the county’s Resolution. It commits the county through employee training, policy reviews, a task force and other steps to end inequality in the delivery of public services.

Riverside County joins San Bernardino County and other Inland Empire cities in associating racial discrimination to higher rates of health problems for people of color when compared to Caucasians,

The Riverside County Resolution condemns systemic racism and its consequences  The move comes almost two months after Black community leaders called on the Board of Supervisors to treat racial discrimination as a public health hazard that threatens minorities’ well-being.

On June 23, San Bernardino County became the first in California to make that declaration. In recent weeks, Riverside, Redlands, Fontana, Moreno Valley, and Rialto have made similar declarations, joining at least 83 governmental entities nationwide, including the state of Wisconsin, to do so.

At the Aug. 4 Supervisors’ meeting, Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari provided data on the health disparities impacting people of color. She said Black residents are likelier than Caucasian residents to visit the emergency room for hypertension, asthma, and diabetes and had lower birth weights and higher infant mortality rates than whites.

African Americans and Latinos are more likely to live in poverty than whites and Latinos were two and a half times more likely to lack health insurance than whites, Saruwatari said.

“Some might say, “Well, racism doesn’t determine your health,’” she said. “I would argue it absolutely does. Where people live, work, and play affects health.”

First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who is white, said that while it could be “a misperception on my part, as I’ve listened to this issue on health care and tying it to racism, I’ve always felt there was a finger being pointed at the professional health care staff in all of our clinics and our hospitals … basically accusing them of indirect or direct participation in racism in our health-care delivery.”

“Under that scenario, there was no way I could support this in finding that they were participants in that effort,” he said.  “ … This is not about the way that we deliver health care. It’s about a societal challenge that we all face and it’s not directly the responsibility of those employees.”

About a half dozen members of the public spoke in favor of the Resolution, including Regina Patton Stell, president of the Riverside chapter of the NAACP.

“This resolution will speak to the need for reconciliation, transparency, transformation, and inclusivity. We need your leadership today. We know you are leaders,” Stell said. “ … Set the bar today. Begin the work. Take a stand for what you know is right.”




Image Sources

  • Racism is a Pandemic Too: Shutterstock