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by Judith Hruz
The Montgomery County Council on June 16 unanimously declared racism a public health crisis in Montgomery County.
Councilman Will Jawando (D-At large), who spearheaded the declaration with all members of the council as sponsors, introduced the resolution the previous week.
He said scientists see racism as a social, cultural and political construct and see segregation and race-based discrimination as having real consequences on health and quality of life.
In a memo to the council, Jawando noted that racism causes persistent discrimination and inequitable outcomes in many areas of life. An emerging body of research, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, has found that racism itself is a social determinant of health, he said.
Disparities in health outcomes have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jawando said, as African Americans have the highest number of recorded cases and deaths across the United States, in the state of Maryland and in Montgomery County, where African Americans account for 25 percent of the deaths, while they are 19 percent of the population.
Councilman Gabe Albornoz (D-At large) said the resolution “publicly acknowledges what we have known for a long time – that racism is absolutely a public health crisis.”
Albornoz, who called it “ironic” that the coronavirus pandemic and issues of police brutality have come together at the same time, added, “It’s not just a moral obligation for us to be focusing on these issues right now, it’s a public health imperative for everyone moving forward.”
Jawando said the council has established a track record of racial equity and social justice and this declaration will “build on our work.”
County Councilman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) said the new resolution is a reminder of the significant work the council has already committed to doing.
She and then-Councilman Marc Elrich in April 2018 spearheaded a resolution that was later adopted by the full council as the Racial Equity and Social Justice Law. She said several new laws and initiatives, including stopping police brutality, are under the umbrella of that law, which took effect in March of this year.
Jawando said declaring racism a public health crisis is the next step in promoting racial equity.
He said the recent step “calls upon us to urgently implement a plan and approach to eliminating systemic inequities across Montgomery County.”
On June 9, when the resolution was introduced, Councilman Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) said some young people thought they lived in a world where they were not judged by what they look like, but recent incidents, including the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, changed that.
“We’ve now broken the spirit of a generation that thought we were on the right track,” he said.
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