Oakland Declares “Racism” a Public Health Crisis

The city council of Oakland, California, voted last week to declare “racism” a public health crisis in the city. The council approved the initiative to combat the crisis without opposition and also resolved to work on actions designed to improve “racial equity.”

The council’s resolution allocates up to $350,000 of city taxpayer funds for “data analysis and consulting services” to assist city officials in implementing “necessary improvements in systems for collecting and processing data to track performance and equity progress.”

During the council meeting last week, Council Member Carroll Fife said that even though Oakland is “supposed to be progressive or whatever,” the city still has a “history of disenfranchisement and systemic racism” embedded in city services and “culture.”

Oakland Department of Race and Equity executive director Darlene Flynn told reporters that the COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for “widening the racial disparity gap.” She added that the effect was similar to those seen in “other disasters as well, like Hurricane Katrina.” Flynn said that when a stressful event hits a city, it exacerbates pre-existing circumstances.

An agenda report to the council presented by Flynn and other city officials indicated that the city’s black and Latino residents experience less favorable health outcomes than white residents.

The report said that residents of the mostly white neighborhood of North Oakland Hills live an average of “14 to 15 years longer” than those who live in the black and Latino neighborhoods in other parts of the city.

It went on to say that similar racial disparities are seen in the city in “preventable hospitalizations, rates of diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and heart disease, death rates due to opioid overdose, babies born with very low birth weight, infant mortality, and beyond.”

Oakland joins other U.S. cities that have made similar declarations, including Boston. The mayor there in 2020, Marty Walsh, declared racism a public health crisis in the city and moved a $3 million budget allocation from the police department to public health.

At the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director last year described racism as a serious health threat across the country.