Shelby County leaders pass resolution declaring racism a pandemic

Racism recognized as "pandemic" in Shelby Co.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Around 57% of all COVID-19 cases affect Black people and one of Shelby County’s health care leaders agrees that institutional racism contributes to that and a slew of other problems.

”Clearly as a health director, I want to be very direct and bold to say that it is our opinion that racism is a pandemic in our county,” said Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter.

Haushalter expressing her support of a resolution passed during Monday’s Shelby County Commission meeting recognizing racism as a pandemic and a commitment to “unequivocally defend minorities and aim to eradicate the effects of systemic racism.”

“We in public health have always, since the origins of public health in our country, focused on the root causes of health and poor health and what we know is that there are many systemic issues in our county that continue to impact communities of color that result in poor health condition, poor economic outcomes or educational outcomes,” said Haushalter.

The resolution originally sponsored by Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer passed 10-2 with Commissioners Mark Billingsley and Amber Mills voting against it.

Mills, concerned about the economic impact of this resolution.

“I’m wondering if businesses are considering whether to go to Memphis or Dallas and they look up and see that their local government has considered racism as a pandemic,” said Mills. “I wouldn’t want to take my business there.”

Shelby Co. Health Department on racism considered a pandemic

Haushalter says labeling racism as a pandemic allows the county to take a comprehensive look at how to end it. Similar to how the state labeled the opioid use as a crisis or COVID-19 as a pandemic.

“So in order to truly impact racism in Shelby County, it’s going to be imperative that we come together, that we look at things at a multi-disciplinary lease and we dedicate resources to structural change,” said Haushalter.

Memphis isn’t the only city declaring racism as a pandemic or public health crisis, so has the city council in Columbus, Ohio and Denver.

They point to statistics that show Black people are twice as likely to be killed by law enforcement.

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