Wayne County Commission decries racism as public health crisis

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Wayne County Commissioners adopted a resolution Thursday calling out racism as a public health crisis and outlining plans that commissioners said will help bring change to the county.

The resolution, which was co-sponsored by all 14 members of the commission, highlights the effect of structural racism on African Americans, citing numerous studies that show African Americans face higher rates of poverty, incarceration and disease than other races.

“This is something that is so very important and relevant to the times we live in now,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell. 

Alisha Bell, D- Detroit

The resolution notes the county’s diverse racial and ethnic population and commits the commission “to the eradication of all forms of racism and discrimination and the elimination of all disparities created by racism.”

The persistent discrimination, Bell said, is evident in issues including voter suppression, inequality in education and employment, lack of access to health care and mental health care, and inadequate access to food and housing.

Bell highlighted the environmental impact of racism in the Flint water crisis and air pollution levels in southwest Detroit.

"We have water all across the state with lead paint and that could be an issue, but most often is not. It happens in communities of color, and then it is even right here in Wayne County, in southwest Detroit. For decades, they've had a problem with the air quality with Marathon Oil," Bell said.

"The bottom line is that there are disparities that we have come from, unfortunately, racism and I think this is the time the moment in time that we can start having these honest discussions about it. And not only have discussions about it, but have solutions on how we can move forward looking through the prism of racism."

The Wayne County joins Ingham, Kalamazoo, Oakland and Washtenaw counties, which have already passed similar resolutions. The commission is also urging other government bodies and organizations to join.

It comes after a month of protests in the city that have moved through downtown Detroit and neighborhoods, most recently on the southwest side, to denounce police brutality.

On its own, the commission has pledged to enhance diversity and upholding anti-racism principles, encourage ongoing racial equality training for employees, partners and contractors. It will also advocate for local and state policies to address public health disparities, promote engagement in-county residents and support development to further advance racial equity, according to the resolution.

Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell presents resolution to board over Zoom Thursday.

The resolution was inspired by one approved in Franklin County, Ohio. Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce, the resolution’s sponsor and former Ohio state treasurer, also attended Thursday’s virtual meeting.

Bell said it was important to replicate the model from Franklin County, which has 1.4 million people and includes Columbus, because it's comparable to Wayne County, which has almost 1.8 million.

"They were the first county of this year to pass this resolution, and they did a lot of research," Bell said. "They found that the common link to poverty was racism. So they had a resolution that they put forth... and it was important to look at what we had here in Michigan while zooming in on Wayne County to see that there's definitely a connection as well."

The resolution will be forwarded to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the county’s delegation in the Michigan Legislature, the Michigan Association of Counties, and local units of government, the commission said.

Bell hopes that from the resolution, a committee will be established by Whitmer to look at data policies and eliminate any forms of racism.

"We're all getting on board and that's great to see a united front in the largest counties in Michigan, identify and racism as a public health crisis," Bell said. "Unfortunately, racism has tainted all that this country has done over hundreds of years. So recognizing it, and then putting policies in place to address this is what I would like for the governor to do."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_