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Declaring racism a health crisis in Cleveland labeled a start; the real work will be finding the solutions

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 6/5/2020 By Robert Higgs, cleveland.com
a group of people crossing a street in front of a building: Cleveland Councilman Blaine Griffin speaks during a news conference Friday about council's declaration that racism is a public health crisis. Members of Cleveland City Council and community leaders said passage of that resolution declaring racism a public health crisis is a bold move, but also just a start. © Robert Higgs, cleveland.com/cleveland.com/TNS Cleveland Councilman Blaine Griffin speaks during a news conference Friday about council's declaration that racism is a public health crisis. Members of Cleveland City Council and community leaders said passage of that resolution declaring racism a public health crisis is a bold move, but also just a start.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Members of Cleveland City Council and community leaders said Friday that passage of a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis is a bold move, but also just a start.

They acknowledged that no money has been allocated for the effort and that council has held no hearing on how the coronavirus disproportionately affects African Americans in the city.

“We better make sure this is not just a document, a piece of paper,” said Councilman Basheer Jones, one of the primary sponsors of the resolution, during a news conference outside City Hall.

Here are other highlights from the news conference.

What’s the resolution and what does it require?

In addition to declaring racism a public health crisis, the resolution establishes a group that is required to develop policy to address systemic racism that leads to poorer health among African Americans.

Racism exists throughout society’s systems, said Councilman Blaine Griffin, another primary sponsor of the legislation. That includes jobs and economic opportunity, equity and wealth, housing access, civil rights and public health.

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As a result, African Americans experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and infant mortality and have lower life expectancy.

Members of council, Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration and the public are to develop strategies to address those systemic inequities. The city then is expected to make policy based on those strategies.

“This is the first bold step,” Griffin said.

What might happen?

Jones offered some suggestions at the news conference, including putting pressure on major corporations and nonprofits to bring more minorities onto their boards and executive teams.

And the city should consider diversity in deciding which businesses to reward with city work, Jones said. For example, if banks aren’t diverse, the city should take their deposits elsewhere, he said.

Cleveland also needs to improve diversity in city government, boosting minority representation in its safety forces so that they better match the community makeup.

Jackson, during a town hall meeting Thursday, noted that half of the cadets in the most recent police class were minorities, and that the city has tried to improve minority hiring.

If disparities in health are targeted by the resolution, why hasn’t City Council’s Health and Human Service Committee held hearings on how COVID-19 coronavirus has disproportionately affected African Americans in Cleveland?

“That’s a good question, said Griffin, who chairs the health committee and was responding to cleveland.com.

Griffin blamed precautions being taken because of the coronavirus, including most City Hall offices being closed to the public for months, and said meeting via Zoom was complicated.

During that period, however, City Council has used teleconferencing software to hold other committee meetings – Finance; Development, Planning and Sustainability; Committee of the Whole; and one Health meeting on this resolution.

The Committee of the Whole meeting involved all members of council and several department heads, who shuffled in and out of the meeting over three hours.

Griffin said council, members of the administration and the state regularly share information about the coronavirus and who is impacted.

That information, however, is not all shared with the public.

How much money is set aside for the anti-racism effort?

None, Griffin said.

How much money will be needed to tackle the problems?

Probably a lot, although no one has quoted any estimates.

The mayor does have some initiatives underway for developing neighborhoods that involve millions of dollars of investment, but those efforts, meant to build equity in neighborhoods, are not a direct part of this resolution.

City Council President Kevin Kelley acknowledge that strategies for dealing with problems will require the city – and the community – to put up some money.

“This is going to cost money. It is going to take resources,” Kelley said. Addressing issues “will not be free and it will not be easy.”

Does that mean this resolution is ‘just a piece of paper’?

Yes, for now.

But speakers at the news conference Friday stressed that the resolution is the beginning. The heavy lifting will require the entire community to participate in finding solutions.

“You cannot solve a problem unless you identify the problem,” Danielle Sydnor, president of the Cleveland Chapter of the NAACP.

Toward that end, more than 20 corporate, civic and nonprofit organizations pledged their support for the effort this week.

“This particular piece of legislation gives us just a starting point to develop plans to dismantle the racism that exists in institutions,” said Marsha Mockabee, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland.

“We’re praying for wisdom as we move. We’re intending collaboration,” Mockabee said. “And we absolutely will refuse to let this just be a document that sits on a shelf. That, you can hold us accountable for.”

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Rentable scooters returning to Cleveland with a bit more speed and later hours for operation

Cleveland should try small-scale recycling while it fixes its program’s big problems, council members argue

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