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2020 Year in Review: Racism declared a public health crisis

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Following months of protests related to police brutality and systemic racism, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed a special resolution in June declaring racism a public health crisis in Marion County.

Co-sponsored by President Vop Osili, the council unanimously passed Proposal 182 on June 8. The proposal described racism as a “barrier to health equity” throughout the country, citing inequities in employment, housing, health care and food access, as well as links between school funding and tax revenue that historically put children of color at a disadvantage in education. 

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said one in four Black children have been exposed to violence and called the declaration a first step in addressing the issues systemic racism causes in Indianapolis. However, she urged the council at the time to come back with more concrete recommendations to help the issue, comparing the proposal to prescribing aspirin for a brain tumor. 

When the council passed the special resolution, Osili was optimistic that it would allow the city to undo past injustices by examining data from all city and county departments. Various organizations, such as school boards and businesses, can make pledges to promote diversity and inclusion.

“We don’t like to talk about things that are uncomfortable,” Osili said in June. “But, the needle won’t move unless we have those uncomfortable discussions and make changes that reverse, as much as possible, negative impacts of decisions we’ve made historically.”

Several businesses, including Citizens Energy Group and Fever Basketball Operations, took action in October, when a group of companies signed the Indy Racial Equity Pledge, which is a promise to fund change in areas such as health prosperity, education and criminal justice. The pledge was established, in part, by Eli Lilly. 

“This is more than just a statement just saying equity is important,” said Tiffany Benjamin, senior director of corporate responsibility at Eli Lilly and president of the Lilly Foundation. “It’s about meaningful action.”

Indianapolis became one of more than 20 cities throughout the country to formally declare racism as a public health issue. Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin have declared it a public health issue at the state level.

The special resolution came following weeks of protests in Indianapolis after the police shooting death of Dreasjon Reed and the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Reed, 21, was killed by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police (IMPD) Officer De Jour Mercer on May 6 following a high-speed car chase. Over the weeks that followed, thousands of Hoosiers marched downtown and met at the Statehouse lawn to protest systemic racism.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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