Austin City Council declares racism a public health crisis that is ‘killing Black and Brown people’

Racial Justice & Equality Movement

Rally for Black Lives and Black Voices at Huston-Tillotson University (KXAN/Todd Bailey)

Austin (KXAN) — Racism in Austin is a “public health crisis,” the Austin City Council declared on Wednesday.

Council members approved a resolution making the declaration — asking the city manager to address racism, in addition to asking state leaders to take similar actions.

“Racism is literally killing Black and brown people,” Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said. “It’s a public health crisis and it’s beyond time to treat it as such.”

“The inequities are countless and they aren’t because African Americans are inherently inferior,” Harper-Madison said. “They are the fruits of generations worth of explicitly discriminatory and racist policies, things like housing policies from the federal level on down to the local level that kept Black residents from even reaching the ground floor of generational wealth-building.”

The resolution cites a definition of crisis from the Boston University School of Public Health that a crisis must “affect large numbers of people, it must threaten the health over the long-term, and it must require the adoption of large-scale solutions.”

The resolution itself says that the city of Austin’s overall prosperity depends on equal access to opportunity for every resident “regardless of the color of their skin.”

It also acknowledges the 1928 Master Plan — a Jim Crow city policy — created a “negro district” and resulted in the intentional restriction of resources for the Black community, “the residual effects of which are still experienced today.”

This 1928 policy pushed Black and Hispanic Austinites to the part of the city that is now the area east of I-35.

The resolution also states that racism in Austin causes persistent discrimination and disadvantages, including in areas of housing, education, businesses, employment and criminal justice.

The document points to more and more research that indicates racism itself is a social determinant of health.

Citing census data, the resolution notes that while white Austin residents experience a poverty rate of 9.1%, Black residents experience a poverty rate of 22.9% and have incomes that are 55% of the median income of their white neighbors.

Specifically, the resolution directs the city manager to continue efforts to advance race equity in Austin and to identify ways to enhance diversity and make sure that anti-racism principles make their way into leadership, city staffing and contracting.

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk is also directed to add to educational training and activities for employees “aimed at understanding, addressing, and dismantling racism.”

The resolution also calls on Cronk to advocate locally and through the National League of Cities as well as the Texas Municipal League for policies that improve health and help to dismantle systemic racism.

Cronk is being asked to report back to the Council annually on these advocacy efforts.

Additionally, the resolution asks the city’s Equity Office to review recommendation’s from the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities and make recommendations in education, housing, health, finance, and civil and criminal justice.

Finally, the Council is calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to join in declaring racism as a public health crisis and to “enact equity in all policies of the state of Texas.”

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