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New London poised to declare racism a public health crisis

New London — The City Council on Monday will take up a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis and join a national movement to recognize that health inequities are rooted in racism.

The resolution cites racism as a cause of segregation and inequities in things like economic stability, housing, education, physical environment, food security, employment, health care and criminal justice and policing.

The proposed resolution contains some of the same language included in resolutions created by Hartford-based Health Equity Solutions that are being considered by other communities across the state.

The proposal in New London more specifically is linked to the 2016 and 2019 Community Health Needs Assessments, created by a collaboration between Yale New Haven Health and the Southeastern Connecticut Health Improvement Collaborative. The assessments look at the health of the community and some of the disparities that exist based on race and things like social, economic and environmental conditions.

The 2019 assessment addresses racism as a public health issue in the 10-town region that includes New London. A community survey in 2018 revealed that 28% of people of color versus 10% of whites reported being unfairly treated when seeking health care. The same survey showed 18% of people of color versus 9% of whites reported being unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened or abused by police.

Jennifer Muggeo, deputy director of Ledge Light Health District and a member of the coordinating team for the Health Improvement Collaborative, said the resolution is a recognition by the city that there are public impacts from racism. An approval by the council would show a commitment to uncover and address those issues.

Muggeo said the disparities uncovered during the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent public cries for racial justice have helped shine a light on systemic racism. National studies indicate racial and ethnic minority groups are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians at a greater risk for hospitalizations and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Muggeo credited Mayor Michael Passero with taking the initiative to bring the resolution before the council.

“The point of the resolution is for the city as a community to say ‘we know these things to be true. We know there are inequities ... and we’re taking action to identify and address those issues,” Muggeo said.

The resolution “doesn’t flip a switch” on inequities but does show a commitment to unravel what Muggeo said are hundreds of years of systems in place across the country that have led to disparities.

The resolution, in part, calls for “working to progress an equity and justice-oriented community by continuing to identify specific activities to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting.”

It also resolves to promote equity through all policies and budgets approved by the City Council and improving on the system of communication and community engagement and involvement in leadership and policy-making to include more minority voices.

Councilor James Burke said he will support the resolution and anticipates discussion and questions aimed at looking more closely at the data supporting the racial gaps in public health.

“As elected officials it’s important to have that data to combat inequities in health outcomes,” he said. “I look forward to supporting this resolution.”

Burke said he hopes other municipalities follow suit.

“It is an honor to be part of a community that is not only acknowledging that racism exists, but is declaring to actively deconstruct those systems that have oppressed historically disenfranchised people for more than 400 years,” Councilor Kevin Booker Jr. said.

“The fact that we as a city are implementing policies and are willing to hold each other accountable to make progress, makes me proud to serve on this Council. As a survivor of on-going systemic oppression, it is the first time I have seen what the beginning of liberation might look like,” he said. "If my ancestors were alive today, I believe they would be proud to see a document that specifically outlines things that need to be implemented to dismantle systemic racism."

Booker said it was his hope the resolution becomes a stepping stone “to ensure equity for all people in the City of New London."

g.smith@theday.com

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