The San Luis Obispo City Council unanimously voted to declare racism a public health emergency at a meeting June 16, and recommended that the county and state do the same.
“We want all people to feel honored and respected, and, at this time, the Black identifying people of color are not feeling that,” Councilmember Erica Stewart said on behalf of the council. “We want to figure out how we can continue to help as a council, and as a city.”
Declaring a public health emergency allows the city to direct funding to address public health problems experienced by marginalized communities, Assistant to the City Manager Ryan Betz said. The city could use the funds to provide mental and physical health services, public safety programs and more, he said.
“There’ll be more funding for programs that combat racism,” activist and civil engineering freshman Xavier Moore said. “When I say combat racism, I don’t just mean combating people who are racist, I mean combating the systems of racism, developing nonprofits, you know, changing curriculum in schools, fighting against environmental racism.”
R.A.C.E. Matters SLO and young Black leaders in the city recommended the resolution to city council, Mayor Harmon said.
Cal Poly student Xavier Moore worked with R.A.C.E. Matters SLO and other young activists to encourage city council to pass this resolution.
“A lot of people will try to beat around the bush or get away from it saying it’s subjective, this, that, when in all factual reality, systematic racism is ingrained in every part of our society and should be treated as an emergency,” Moore said. “If it becomes adopted as a public health emergency in the county, hate crimes, racism, hate speech, harassment, those will all have a little bit harsher consequences, they’ll be treated a little more differently — condemned a lot more under the law.”
The resolution addressed that Black people in America have been dying of coronavirus at a higher rate than White people, and Black people in America are afraid of being killed by law enforcement and white supremacist groups, according to council documents.
Racism damages the health and well being of Black people in America, and America as a whole, activist Leola Dublin Macmillan said.
”We are currently embroiled in a battle to survive the onslaught of two global pandemics. The first is Covid-19. The second is racism, and it has been a pervasive toxin in this country for centuries,” Macmillan said, who is advocating for California to declare racism a public health emergency.
“As someone who grew up on the east coast, I know that historically, California has been the state that sets the legislative tone for the rest of the country,” she said.
Macmillian said that the United States promised “liberty and justice for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Declaration of Independence, and that it’s time to deliver liberty and justice to Black people in America.
“America is supposed to be a country that recognizes structural inequality, and actively works to dismantle it,” Macmillan said to the city council. “I ask all of you to take this courageous step to ensure all of us are free.”