Ohio Legislative Black Caucus wants first-in-kind declaration of racism as a public health crisis

(The Center Square) — The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) has introduced legislation to declare racism a public health crisis. If passed, it would be the first of its kind at the state level, lawmakers say.

“I am deeply troubled by the state of our nation,” state Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, said in a statement. “That is why now more than ever it is vitally important to declare racism as a public health crisis. It is unacceptable that 170 years after Black Laws were abolished in Ohio, race is still a social determinant of health. Ohio’s minorities need equality in both service and care.”

The move comes amid protests and demonstrations in Ohio and nationwide over the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis.

“What we are witnessing around the country is a community simply begging to be seen and heard,” state Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, and president of the OLBC said. “At a time when COVID-19 is disproportionately hospitalizing and killing the black community because of racism, the time to act is now.”

The resolution would, in part, create “a glossary of terms and definitions concerning racism and health equity,” assert “that racism is a public health crisis affecting our entire community” and commit to “review all portions of codified ordinances with a racial equity lens,” according to a news release. Officials in Cleveland and Franklin County are moving forward with similar proposals, according to reports.

“It is a shame that we live in a state that has some of the best health care institutions in the world and yet black Ohioans are still seeing health disparities,” state Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, said in a news release. “It’s time to declare racism a public health crisis and make sure all our residents receive the same quality health care and access to the same opportunities.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday he is upping efforts to reduce health and economics disparities and improve race relations.

“I am seeking dialogue to solve these problems and seeking strategies for the implementation of reforms,” DeWine, a Republican, said in a statement.

“Whether it is in the urban core or the hills of Appalachia, we have Ohioans who are not living up to their God-given potential because they simply do not have the same opportunities. That is wrong, and we have a moral obligation to change that,” DeWine continued.

“Race is indisputably a factor in all kinds of health, education, and economic disparities. The divisions of race have plagued us since our country’s inception,” the governor added. “While there are no simple solutions, we must be a positive voice in advancing change for all of those who are marginalized and in creating equity in health, education, and economic opportunity.”

By Todd DeFeo

The Center Square

Todd DeFeo is a contributor to The Center Square