Cuyahoga County Equity Report Calls For Confronting Systemic Racism

The Cuyahoga County seal
The report examines inequity in Cuyahoga County across four categories: health, economics, quality of life and criminal justice. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

A council created to address systemic and structural inequality in Cuyahoga County released its first report on areas of concern this week.

The Citizens Advisory Council on Equity (CACE) examines healthcare, economics, quality of life and criminal justice to find ways to address and improve access for minority residents, particularly the Black community. The council will release findings semi-annually in an effort to monitor the county’s work toward addressing inequity.

The first report includes a variety of concerns across the four committees, as well as recommendations on ways to improve. Some particular areas of concern include higher infant mortality rates and less financial security for Black residents, said Chairman Eddie Taylor.

The county has some programs and ongoing efforts to address those issues already, Taylor said, particularly infant mortality.

“There are efforts underway, including what so many of the hospital systems are attempting to do,” Taylor said. “The social programs and focused efforts that have been put into place to help eradicate this issue are helpful, but we still have a problem, and it is still a significant problem.”

The report also calls for better data collection on how Black residents are treated in the local healthcare system, as well as the makeup of the county workforce. The CACE is calling on Cuyahoga County to better address social determinants of health, such as lead poisoning in neighborhoods with higher Black populations, and committing more resources to the community.

“It’s important to talk about this from a community standpoint,” Taylor said, “to see if we can get together, begin to lay waste to what ails our community from a structural racism standpoint.”

Economic inequities also persist in the county, according to the report. County departments and projects are disproportionately contracted with white-owned companies, the report found. CACE is recommending county officials focus on procurement from minority-owned businesses and creating a public-private partnership that provides opportunities for Black-owned businesses.

The report generally calls for better data collection to analyze how Black residents are treated in county agencies and institutions. That includes centralized data from healthcare agencies and the county justice system on interactions with the public, as well as more generalized data about the makeup of the county workforce.

The CACE also calls for improvements and consistency in diversity, equity and inclusion training across county departments. The report found some departments, such as the Health and Human Services and the county clerk’s office, have extensive programs to address racial biases. But those efforts are not consistent.

“[The] Sheriff’s Department and jail, however, lacks intention other than a sincere but casual admission that, ‘we need to do better,’” the report reads.

Departments recognize the need for such training, Taylor said. It’s just a matter of getting everyone onto the same page.

“It’s the consistency, the uniformity of applying DEI as a tool and the awareness that goes along with it, that has not necessarily worked as effectively as the county might hope,” Taylor said.

The criminal justice committee found several examples of systemic inequity throughout the justice system, including in sentencing, bail, jailtime and accountability for those working in the system.

“No one is suggesting in any way that we are lighter on or less vigilant around law enforcement,” Taylor said. “But we do understand this disproportionality with respect to brown and Black folks with respect to treatment in the criminal justice system and this cyclical nature of not being able to get out of the system once engaged or involved.”

The report included recommendations including additional training programs for management and the creation of a jail coordinator to address inequities in bail and related interactions.

The categories examined by the advisory council overlap with the factors causing inequities and what solutions might be available, Taylor said. The report highlights the cyclical and related nature of healthcare, economics, crime and quality of life. Any approach from the county will need cohesion, he said.

“How do we now bring an approach that is, number one, workable for all, but also will be effective for all?” Taylor said. “The cohesion question is a good question, it’s just now, we have to find a solution we know will work if implemented the right way.”

Local officials have been receptive to the CACE’s efforts, Taylor said, and they are interested in learning more about the inequities and finding solutions.

“[County officials] certainly do recognize that there are some structural issues, whether it’s around employment or advancement, or interaction with the public in the county, or even things that simply affect the county residents,” Taylor said. “That acknowledgement is a takeaway to begin with.”

The issues highlighted in the report also exist outside of Cuyahoga County, Taylor said, but local officials can work to become a national leader in addressing them.

“It’s not just Cuyahoga County. It’s not just our local area or city governments,” Taylor said. “These are issues we find to be prevalent in other places.”

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