Walsh Declares Racism a Public Health Emergency

Mayor Walsh announced at a press conference on June 12 that he has declared racism a public health crisis in the City of Boston, as well as that he will allocate 20 percent ($12 million) of the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) overtime budget to community programs for youth, food security, immigrant advancement, and more.

“We know about the inequalities in our country and we’re working everyday in the City of Boston to eliminate them,” he said. “Equity has been the center of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Walsh said that “the public conversation changed” when George Floyd was murdered on May 25.

“Young people refused and still refuse to accept that injustice,” he said. “I’ve been listening to that movement…how racism shapes lives and hurts communities as we’re seeing here right now.”

He said that this announcement is “the beginning, not the end,” and more announcements are to come.

An initial investment of $3 million from the police overtime budget will go to the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), Walsh said.

“Racism is a driving force that shapes the access to the social determinants of health, like housing, education, and employment” Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez said at the press conference,  “The executive order…is an important step in ensuring attention and focus on this work and resources that will allow us to do what’s necessary.”

He said an eight-step strategy led by the BPHC along with the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes “policy and practice solutions that work to dismantle systemic racism and create barriers to strong public health,” as well as an assessment of health inequity in all policies to see where there are gaps. He also said a Boston Inequity Health Now plan would be created that “gets to the root causes of these inequities, not simply just respond to them.”

Martinez said that seeing where the gaps in the health system are will allow for the use of that data to “analyze the real facts” and “join advocacy at the state and national level for these policies.”

Walsh said that “in addition” to declaring racism a public health crisis, he is also “taking steps in law enforcement accountability,” such as strengthening the existing community oversight panel. “These steps call for a 10 point action plan put forward by the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and other elected officials of color in Boston and the Commonwealth.”

The BPD has completed a review of its use of force policy, Walsh said, “outlined by the national ‘8 Can’t Wait’ movement.”

He said as a result, the BPD is “clarifying rules to meet the standards, and has immediately implemented several reforms,” such as use of force policies “proven to reduce the likelihood of violence,” as well as a training program known as Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC).

“This means that officers will not only be required to intervene when they witness unnecessary use of force, they’ll be trained with strategies to preventing abuses and intervening if they occur,” he said.

Walsh also said that BPD “will no longer use the hair test for evidence of drug use in officers or recruits.”

Walsh said that the reallocation of 20 percent of the BPD overtime budget and the other measures announced are “certainly not enough,” and the City will “continue to make and demand change.”

He also announced what he called a ”process for community input, review, and reform.” He said that through this process, “all police use of force policies,” will be reviewed, and communities will be engaged by including the voices of a “diverse range of input, experiences, and stories.” He said the findings of the review would be reported to the community for feedback, after which all use of force polices would be reformed based on that feedback.

“Our process is not designed to delay change,” Walsh said. A new task force, led by Bostonians from civil rights organizations and led by former US Attorney Wayne Budd, will “conduct an immediate review of all police force policies,’ as well as “provide guidance about how we strengthen the co-op board,” Walsh said. He said that the City “will be accepting any changes that they recommend,” and the task force is effective immediately.

“I pledge to make Boston a national leader in this work, and we are following through on our pledge,” Walsh said.

“It’s this kind of leadership that takes our whole City working together. I’m calling on all of us, every Bostonian, every elected official to be a part of the solution.” He said that “we must continue to listen to the voices at the center of the conversation” and that “systemic change must go far beyond law enforcement.”

1 comment for “Walsh Declares Racism a Public Health Emergency

  1. Old South Ender
    June 18, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    Perhaps the Mayor could explain how tearing down the Harriet Tubman House in the South End, and the services it provided to the black residents, fits his plan for systemic change.

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