An Open Statement From Public Health Advocates: Community Priorities to Address Racial and Health Inequities

Jun 09, 2020

With police departments gobbling up half of the average California city’s budget, Public Health Advocates joins in the public outcry for dramatic changes in municipal priorities and police practices.

Racism is America’s original public health crisis. From slavery to Jim Crow, from lynching to the War on Drugs, racism targeting African Americans has ravaged our country from its inception. Racism has been legally sanctioned, brutally enforced, engrained into the fabric of our daily life, and either supported or largely ignored by most White Americans.

The recorded murder of George Floyd has catalyzed protests across the nation and around the world against white supremacy and police violence. Public Health Advocates stands with the protesters, including those among our staff who have joined them.

As the executive director of Public Health Advocates, who is White, I am fortunate to work with and continually learn from our extraordinary Black and Brown staff and board members. Together, we help communities across California to repair the racist policies, systems, and environments that leave so many behind. With COVID-19 and the most recent killings, our Black staff describe a pain too great to bear. Like the community members they work with, they fear every day for their lives and the lives of their children. They are shocked to see White people caring more about broken windows than about Black lives. They know our country cannot go on in this way and know we are better than this.

Malcolm X said, “If you see somebody winning all the time, he isn’t gambling, he’s cheating.” It is time that white folks stopped cheating, that we stop justifying or looking the other way from the nearly endless inequities weighing down Black communities – from restricted access to healthy food to soaring unemployment, from disproportionate traffic stops and arrests to limited intergenerational wealth. With the policies buttressing these inequities largely out of public view, their presence is recognized only by those who are harmed.

With police departments gobbling up half of the average California city’s budgets, as a first step toward broader change, Public Health Advocates joins in the public outcry for dramatic changes in municipal priorities and police practices.

Based on input provided by residents across California as part of our All Children Thrive Campaign, we call on and will be helping cities across the state to:

  1. Establish Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to learn from residents about the harms inflicted by police, and to use what they learn to modify recruitment, hiring, training, and policing practices to eradicate police brutality and police bias.
  2. Redefine public safety by dedicating more of the city’s budget to youth, family services, restorative justice, and cultural programs than to policing.
  3. Replace police with social workers and community health workers to respond to calls for assistance in non-life-threatening circumstances, such as mental health crises, school truancy, neighborhood disturbances, and homelessness.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” We are at an inflection point in our country’s history. For the first time in a generation, momentum is building to correct longstanding policies and practices that stand in the way of justice. Working together, we can realize the vision our country’s founders set in motion without even knowing its full implications, that “all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

At Public Health Advocates, we commit to acknowledging and dismantling injustices and inequities as we work with communities to realize Dr. King’s vision of love and justice for all Americans. Now is the time. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

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