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Cleveland City Council Considering Effort to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis

photo of Cleveland City Hall
Councilman Blaine Griffin says the measure grew from his research into the World Health Organization's definition of a public health crisis.

Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would declare racism to be a public health crisis. Councilman Blaine Griffin says it’s the first step toward addressing how racism affects society.

Griffin says Woodland Hills -- in his ward -- has the lowest life expectancy in the city according to a 2015 Urban Institute study.  And he adds that the the issues which bring down life expectancy – such as violence and industrial pollution – have been caused by centuries of racist policies.

“You have Jim Crow laws. You have redlining that many of our communities have experienced. We believe that all of these activities – that were government-sponsored activities – have led to the lack of affordable housing. Poor housing conditions. Health disparities. Educational gaps.”

The ordinance needs to be reviewed by council’s finance committee before a vote. If approved, Griffin says a coalition of civil rights and community organizations will form a working group to explore the issues caused by racism. He cites the NAACP, Urban League of Greater Cleveland, United Way of Greater Cleveland, Birthing Beautiful Communities, YWCA of Greater Cleveland, and First Year Cleveland as the groups that will then come up with ways to address these issues through public policy.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.