Several organizations representing executives in California who run county-level health and human services agencies have joined the growing list of public entities declaring racism a public health emergency.
Issuing a statement on Wednesday that they recognize “the historic and ongoing harms of systemic racism” and pledging to address the problem were: the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, the County Health Executives Association of California and the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems.
Hundreds of state, county and city agencies have approved such declarations in the year since African Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others were killed by law enforcement. At least nine California counties are on the record with such statements.
Wednesday’s statement from the four California executive associations noted that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on certain racial and cultural groups and mentioned the growing number of attacks on Asian Americans.
“Our members understand that the experience of racism is itself a social determinant of health and is associated with negative mental health impacts for members of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian and Pacific Islander communities,” said Michelle Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California. Yet system racism often keeps members of these communities from getting the care they need, she said, adding that ongoing and meaningful change will require “sustained dedication and investment in community-defined solutions.”
Among other things, the groups pledged to “normalize” the discussion of race and racial equity, collect data to track progress and center the voices of those who experience systemic racism.
They also want to eliminate policies and practices that sustain racial injustice and improve access to trauma-informed services. They said they will push for greater investment in community-based programs to achieve equitable health outcomes.
They said law enforcement agencies must rigorously track interactions with people of color and develop practices that reduce violent interactions, particularly de-escalation of incidents involving people with behavioral health issues and disabilities.
Other groups calling for racial justice in California welcomed the latest move. They are trying to whip up support at the highest level, including calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to make a statement, as well as pushing a bill to establish within state government an independent Office of Racial Equity.