New York City declares racism a public health crisis

Health Commissioner Dr Dave Chokshi says Covid-19 magnified inequalities among Americans

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Wednesday 20 October 2021 07:49
<p>Jefferson Statue</p>

Jefferson Statue

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The New York City Board of Health on Tuesday passed a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis, joining a growing list of local governments trying to find ways to address the problem.

The resolution called on the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to take steps to review the city’s health code and find ways to combat structural racism.

“To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis,” Health Commissioner Dr Dave Chokshi said in a statement.

He added that the Covid-19 pandemic magnified inequalities which led to a rise in suffering "disproportionally borne by communities of colour in our city and across the nation."

According to a study by the National Cancer Institute, Covid-19 killed a disproportionate number of Black, Latinos and Native Americans.

The resolution was meant to recognise the "crisis" of health inequalities along racial lines and "demand action," Dr Chokshi said.

The board also offered recommendations for the health department, including policy reviews and forming a "data for equity" group to ensure interpretation of health data through an anti-racism perspective.

The board suggested working with agencies to report deaths and health conditions by race followed by a progress report about the resolution twice a year.

The New York City Public Design Commission on Monday voted unanimously to dismantle a seven-foot bronze statue of former US president Thomas Jefferson, which has been in the city council since 1915.

The former president was known to be a slaveholder. Despite being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, he enslaved over 600 people and fathered at least six children with Sally Hemings — a woman he had enslaved.

"Jefferson embodied some of the most shameful parts of our country's long and nuanced history. "It is time for the city to turn the page and move forward," Councilperson Adrienne Adams, co-chair of the council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, told the commission.

However, the move received pushback from Sean Wilentz, a American history professor at Princeton University, who wrote to the commission saying that “the statue specifically honours Jefferson for his greatest contribution to America, indeed, to humankind.”

Since Milwaukee County in Wisconsin termed racism a public health issue in 2019, at least 70 cities, over 30 counties and three states have followed suit.

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