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Still to do in East Lyme: Acknowledge the problem of racism

East Lyme is a town that cares about the health, including the mental health, of its residents. The town's website helpfully includes a list of resources and contact information for agencies and services that can help someone seeking care.

East Lyme is also a town that responded to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and the subsequent revival of the Black Lives Matter movement with openness rather than the no-problem-here stance evident in some other communities. And while the school community may still be edgily awaiting further progress, the aftermath of episodes of racism-tinged violence at the high school was handled with respect for student leadership and opinions.

So it was both reasonable and commendable for the former deputy first selectman and now first selectman, Republican Kevin Seery, and a Democratic colleague, Selectman Dan Cunningham, to undertake months of crafting a draft resolution in collaboration with SCORE, Southeastern Connecticut Organization for Racial Equality. The intent was to frame a statement the Board of Selectmen might adopt, acknowledging that racism is a public health crisis affecting the state and including eight action steps for the town that would ultimately benefit all residents and taxpayers.

On Jan. 5, the board — comprised slightly differently since the November election — declined to act. Opinions expressed by the four selectmen other than Seery and Cunningham reflected doubt that racism is in itself a public health crisis; a concern that minority status of other types — gender, for example — was excluded from the statement; criticism that the resolution failed to offer solutions; and a need for more time for review.

The drafting of the resolution had apparently taken the essential first step, acknowledging that in Connecticut there is a problem with equity, justice and health outcomes for people of color. The response of all the members not personally involved with drafting the resolution indicates otherwise, however. Official acknowledgment has yet to occur, and it won't unless the board enters an earnest, open-minded discussion about the proposed principles and how they fit in East Lyme.

Numerous studies and medical research have concluded that racism is a long-term stressor that affects the health of those subjected to it; to answer the doubt expressed on the board, this is a knowable fact that any member can research for themselves.

A concern that people of other minority groups may also deserve community awareness of inequities merits attention; the resolution before the board could serve as a model for future action on their behalf without derailing the discussion now.

As for solutions, the statement offers eight of them, and as for a suggestion that some efforts already going on in town address the same points, all the better; that will make implementation quicker and easier.

And as for needing more time, we agree. The resolution deserves a thorough review and discussion, but with a timetable for completion and a date for a vote. The resolution would be useless as an idealistic statement sitting on a shelf, but as a blueprint applied to policymaking and budget development, its fairness principles should underlie decisions in the same way as cost and need and long-term value.

The draft resolution is modeled on a template used at the state level and adopted by about two dozen other towns. It does not sound specific to East Lyme, and the resistance by the four selectmen may reflect the sense that they know their own town. Making it personal to East Lyme could be the second task.

The first task, however, is acknowledging the problem and the principles with which to address it. The full text of the resolution ought to be easy for townspeople to access, and with that in mind it is attached to this editorial online. We urge the town to make it easily accessible on the municipal website.

Here is the ninth of nine principles on which the resolution rests. Its truth ought to be self-evident:

"WHEREAS the collective prosperity and wellbeing of the Town of East Lyme depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin:..."

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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