In a 7-0 vote Monday night, the City of New London joined a growing list of municipalities across the state that have declared racism a public health crisis.
"Number one, it is acknowledging that racism is real," said Councilor Efrain Dominguez.
The city's resolution makes it clear that structural racism has impacted the community and created inequities. In passing the resolution, the city committed to a list of eight steps including promoting equity through all policies and budgets approved by city council, addressing how racism affects the delivery of city services, and improving systems of community engagement and identifying clear goals, objectives, systems of oversight and accountability.
"This is a framework," said Councilor Curtis Goodwin before voting.
Councilor James Burke echoed his sentiments, arguing that passing the resolution is just a first step in tackling the larger problem of systemic racism.
"This is a resolution. It is not policy," said Burke. "We as a council need to work closely together with the mayor's administration to try to think about some policy can tangibly make the changes."
New London is now one of 12 municipalities in the state that have declared racism a public health crisis, according to Health Equity Solutions, a CT-based nonprofit with a self-described mission of promoting, "policies, programs, and practices that result in equitable health care access, delivery, and outcomes for all people in Connecticut."
In addition to a petition they created calling for action on racial equity in laws and policies in CT, the nonprofit reached out to various municipalities urging them to adopt their own resolution declaring that racism is a public health crisis. HES drafted a sample resolution for guidance.
Siegel said they were urged to take additional action after COVID-19 racial disparities came to light and as protests across the country continue, fighting police violence on minority communities in various states.
“You can’t address a problem until you acknowledge it exists," said Siegel. "This declaration is really about acknowledging that racism has a real impact, specifically on physical health, on mental health and on the well-being of black and brown people in our state.”
Siegel said that they have made contact with every local public health district in the state and have a goal of getting in touch with at least one leader from each municipality in Connecticut.
Mayor Michael Passero said that when he learned of the group's efforts he immediately thought of the Health Improvement Collaborative of Southeastern Connecticut. The group has been studying the impacts of structural racism in Southeastern Connecticut for years.
The collaborative identified racism as a public health issue in a 2019 report after tracking growing and significant racial disparities in both health outcomes and access to healthcare, transportation, healthy food and affordable housing.
For example, of the people who responded to a 2018 community survey, 28% of people of color reported owning their own home while 58% of white respondents reported owning their own home. In another question, 25% of people of color reported having trouble getting access to reliable transportation while only 11% of white respondents reported the same.
Jennifer Muggeo, deputy director of Ledge Light Health District and a member of the Health Improvement Collaborative, said that the racial disparities within various social determinants of health directly impact health outcomes.
In the same community survey from 2018, Muggeo said that of the people who responded to the survey, 17% of people of color reported having diabetes compared to 8% of white respondents.
”The differences in health outcomes are inequities. They are unjust and they are preventable because if the differences in food access and transportation did not exist, the differences in health outcomes would not exist either," said Muggeo.
Muggeo said that it will be important to make sure that the declaration is followed with action. She also highlighted the importance of municipalities having access to better data to track racial disparities.
"We could stop these differences from happening if we took certain policy actions, if we made investments that are different than the way we do things now," said Muggeo.
Passero said that the city will lean on the health improvement collaborative moving forward for updated data and guidance while also taking an inward look at city processes and procedures.
"A real examination of whether we are doing all that we can to make our community here in New London anti-racist," said Passero.
Siegel said that action steps will look different across all towns and cities. According to HES, Bloomfield, Colchester, Hamden, Hartford, Manchester, Middletown, New Britain, New Haven, New London, South Windsor, West Hartford, Windham and Windsor have all passed resolutions declaring that racism is a public health crisis.