Louisville May Become Latest City to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis


We must have a new sense of urgency to make this declaration,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. The city has been the focus of protests after the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

Officials in Louisville, Ky., where there have been continuing protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor and where coronavirus cases have begun to rise, said Wednesday that the city might join a growing list of local governments that have declared racism a public health crisis.

Local officials in 19 states, including California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, Texas and Wisconsin, have passed or are considering similar resolutions, according to the American Public Health Association.

“We must have a new sense of urgency to make this declaration and do the hard work of dismantling racism and creating real transformation,” Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “I look forward to partnering with Council on this work of declaring racism as a public health emergency.”

How exactly Louisville makes its declaration is still being negotiated, one health official said. It could be made through a resolution or ordinance passed by the Louisville Metro Council, or through an executive order from the mayor.

Once declared, it could help establish funding priorities and possibly lead to regular reports on how local government officials are addressing racial inequality, according to T. Benicio Gonzales, director of the Center for Health Equity at the Louisville health department.

If racism is identified as a public health emergency, then local lawmakers could say to the heads of city agencies, “What are you doing in order to address this important health issue?” Mx. Gonzales said in an interview.

Mx. Gonzales said the declaration could provide “an opportunity to be explicit about what are the causes and barriers to good health.”

Earlier on Wednesday, officials at a Louisville Metro Council meeting said health and income disparities fell disproportionately along racial lines in the city.

Kendall Boyd, chief equity officer for the mayor’s office, presented a report at the hearing that found Black residents of the city were 2.6 times more likely to be arrested by the local police than white residents.

The report also found that in 2016, the unemployment rate among Black residents was 11 percent, compared with 5 percent for white residents, and the mortality rate for Black infants was 2.5 times higher than for white babies, from 2011 through 2015.

“When someone doesn’t look at racism and equity every day like I do, it can be hard to connect those dots,” Mr. Boyd said. “So that’s why if we declare racism and racist attitudes and racist structures as part of this overall public health crisis, we can see how racism literally can kill people.”

Mr. Boyd said that the coronavirus pandemic and the recent protests for racial justice sparked by police killings of Black people — including Ms. Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis — had given these centuries-old problems neADVERTISEMs. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, was shot and killed on March 13 by Louisville police officers who entered her home using a battering ram while executing a search warrant. The police have said that they returned fire when Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend shot an officer in the leg. Several investigations into Ms. Taylor’s killing are underway.

One Louisville officer was terminated in June; two other officers have been placed on administrative reassignment.

On Wednesday morning, the mayor wrote on Twitter that he shared “the frustration at the pace of justice as we all await” the results of the investigations into Ms. Taylor’s killing.

Some residents on social media criticized the proposed declaration, responding to the mayor’s tweet and Facebook post about the news with calls to bring justice for Ms. Taylor’s family. Other residents saw the move as a distraction.

Tim Wohlford, a Louisville resident, said the declaration was a symbolic move by the mayor, rather than a substantive one. “Everybody was yelling at him for six years to do something about the police,” Mr. Wohlford, 58, said.

“Racism is an all-encompassing term,” he said, and it was unfair to expect health officials to address such a wide-ranging problem. “No way in hell. They don’t have the funding or the expertise.”

Since the beginning of July, the coronavirus has continued to spread throughout Kentucky, according to a New York Times database. The seven-day average of new cases at the beginning of the month was 227. By July 28, that figure was 605.

In Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, there are 854 cases per 100,000 people, above the statewide total of 660 cases per 100,000.

According to Mr. Boyd, Black residents are 23 percent of the city’s population but account for about 27 percent of coronavirus-related deaths.

Moving forward, Mr. Boyd said funding was needed to address racism as a health crisis.

“Just putting something on paper and declaring it a public health crisis is one thing,” Mr. Boyd said. “There has to be a specific intentionality and commitment of resources addressing this as a public health crisis.”