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Racism is a Public Health Crisis: The Transformation Starts Here. It Starts with Us.

Protestor holding up Racism is a public health crisis sign

From King County Executive Dow Constantine and Public Health—Seattle & King County Director Patty Hayes

“There’s nothing new under the sun but there are new suns.”—Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Trickster

Today, we declare that racism is a public health crisis. Public Health—Seattle & King County and all of King County government are committed to implementing a racially equitable response to this crisis, centering on community.

King County government and Public Health—Seattle & King County are committed to working in stronger and better resourced partnerships with community organizations and leaders to disrupt and dismantle racism and protect the health and well-being of Black, Indigenous People and People of Color. We recognize that historically and currently King County has been complicit in maintaining and perpetuating structural racism, and that as an institution we must be a vital player in dismantling oppressive systems that are grounded in white supremacy.

Community leaders and organizations will be provided resources to develop solutions. We make these commitments because we know that together we can stop both disease and racism and lay the foundation for a better, stronger community.

We will use quantitative data, including data about racial inequities, along with voices and know-how from community leaders and residents to get to solutions that work and that are sustainable.

We will share power and resources and work on community-defined problems using community-driven solutions. We commit to working side-by-side with anti-racist organizations, driven by people most negatively impacted by racism. We commit to convening other jurisdictions and agencies across sectors and to creating shared, measurable accountability.

White privilege and anti-blackness cannot be fully addressed until the same systems that have “worked just fine” for white people while acting as the foot of oppression for indigenous, Black, and brown communities are dismantled. In its place, we need new systems coming from the communities most affected by racism, oppression, and colonization.

To confront this crisis, we will adopt and commit to a new “Anti-Racism Crisis Response Bill of Rights.” Our duties will include principles such as, do no harm; co-create with those most vulnerable both in the short- and long-term; provide safe, respectful and culturally responsive care, services and information, delivered in a manner centered in BIPOC communities; and provide access to crisis-related services and resources for all community members and provide redress to community members within established mechanisms when barriers or gaps are identified.

Using the current pandemic as an example, we see how COVID-19 is a new crisis on top of the existing crisis of racism, and we see how racism—despite amazing community resiliency—is an underlying root cause of the disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

King County will drive resources toward where they are needed most as indicated by those in that community. As we move into recovery from the pandemic, we cannot make the same mistakes made in the 2009 “Great Recession” that systematically stripped household wealth from black and brown communities.

In 2008, then King County Executive Ron Sims joined with Public Health to launch the Equity and Social Justice Initiative. Working with the County Council, Executive Dow Constantine and the King County Council subsequently passed the Equity and Social Justice Ordinance. In 2016, King County’s six-year Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan led with racial justice.

While King County government has made strides for more than 12 years to operate in an equitable and socially just way, this crisis demands that we do more to transform our systems.

To respond to the crisis of racism, we will continue to change our organizations so that we can be the highest performing local government we can be. We commit ourselves to working in true partnership with community. As we work across many basic needs and social determinants of health, for us known as our determinants of equity, we will center Black and indigenous lives and community demands.

We will issue announcements in the near future as we are guided by community partners in this work. The transformation begins here. It begins with us.


Originally published in Public Health Insider on June 11, 2020.

Posted in Race

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