UPDATE: Santa Clara County declares racism as a public health crisis
Supervisor Cindy Chavez announced two resolutions Monday to support Black Lives Matter movement and to declare racism as a public health crisis. Photo by Tran Nguyen

Amid a national reckoning over racism and civil unrest that’s swept the country, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously adopted resolutions to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and declare racism a public health crisis.

“A resolution is only as good as the actions that follow it,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese, who introduced one of the resolutions. “The first step is stating the problem and then moving forward. We will need the commitment of all our departments and the community to carry out what has been stated in the resolution.”

More than 400 residents and 20 local organizations signed in support of Cortese’s proposal to declare racism a public health crisis. The board also unanimously adopted Supervisor Cindy Chavez’s resolution to show support to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The resolutions will put racial equity at the forefront of policies, boost diversity in the workforce and encourage collaborations with Black community leaders.

Chavez and Cortese announced the resolutions Monday in the wake of protests demanding justice for the police killing of George Floyd and pleas from San Jose activists to defund the police.

“The institutions in this country, throughout, from education to justice system at the local, state and federal government, are fraught with systemic racism,” Cortese said. “And those of us who have worked in the field of local government have seen it day in and day out.”

Several medical groups have issued policy statements declaring that racism a public health issue in the past few years. The American Medical Associations sent out a statement in May showing how both the coronavirus pandemic and police violence have disproportionately impacted communities of color.

African-Americans are three times more likely to be arrested than their white counterpart in San Jose, according to FBI data. In Santa Clara County, low-income communities whose residents are predominantly Latinos and African-Americans have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The declaration––which also calls for more educational efforts, community engagement and an internal policy review––is the first step for the county in fighting systemic racism, officials said.

“I want the Black community here to know that we see them, hear them, support them and ready to learn from them,” Chavez said. “To change history, we must confront it. … We must start now.”

Representatives from the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley, Roots Community Clinics, Silicon Valley De-Bug, Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet and American Muslim Voice stood in support of the resolutions, but they also vowed to hold the county accountable.

“Now we have a moment to say this is not the time for symbolic gestures; it’s about actual policy changes that will lead to freedom and the survival of Black people,” said Raj Jayadev, co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug. “As much as I respect the leadership of the supervisors here, we are going to hold them to the fire.”

Milpitas High School senior Karrington Kenney, who called out a white teacher for wearing blackface last year, called for more actions to address inequality and racism in education and the school-to-prison pipeline.

“(The declaration) is not enough,” Kenney said. “We need to be straight forward; This has been a lasting problem, and it is ending now.”

Kenney said the curriculum in school often glosses over the brutality that Black people––and children––faced: from slavery to mass incarceration and police brutality the last 400 years.

“This is how we created ignorant adults who think nothing more of their people as heroes instead of colonizing looting murderers. Stop claiming that you stand with us; I want you to stand for us and defund the police,” Kenney said. “We do not want fake allyship. Either you announce the crisis tomorrow and promise to make change, or don’t do it at all.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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