Arroyo: Racism in city a public health crisis

On March 4, District 5 City Councillor Ricardo Arroyo offered his first speech in front of the Boston City Council in support of a hearing order he has requested to declare “racism a public health crisis” in the city of Boston. The following text is excerpted from his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Racism is the largest driving force of injustice in America.

According to the American Public Health Association, racism is a driving force of the social determinants of health. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, racism continues to undermine the health of children, adolescents, and families. The Boston Public Health Commission has stated that racism has an independent influence on all social determinants of health in Boston and racism in and of itself has an impact on health.

“Institutions, systems, and processes are created and are responsible for their results. Justice here requires acknowledging that these systems and processes are responsible for the racial inequities that they create and that they worsen. It requires acknowledgment that racism was built into their creation, intentionally or unintentionally, and continues to have an impact today.

“According to the Boston Public Health Commission, Blacks and Latinos rank at the bottom of every single health outcome in Boston, including life expectancy, infant mortality, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. Justice requires accepting responsibility for the reality that systemic and interpersonal racism is responsible for Black and Latinos ranking at the bottom of those health outcomes in Boston.

“Too often those disparities are noted without mention of the systemic racism that contributes to, and drives, those outcomes. To do so creates a narrative that people of color, most especially, Black and Latino people of color, are inherently broken.

“Justice requires we hold the driving force of those inequities accountable. It requires declaring that racism, institutional and interpersonal, is that driving force. Justice requires that we join Milwaukee, Madison, and Pittsburgh in declaring racism a public health crisis in Boston. However, we know that alone is not enough.

“We know that all policies, procedures, regulations, executive orders, and legislation at the municipal level impact racial equity and we have the ability, in the passage of those things, to quite literally subtract years off of the lives of people of color in Boston. That is why we must ensure that racial equity is at the forefront of everything we do.

“One of the ways to ensure this is by creating an independent office that will assess the racial equity impact of all city of Boston initiatives before they are implemented. Doing so guarantees that everything that we do at the municipal level is done through a racial equity lens.

“Racism is real and is a public health crisis in the city of Boston. It requires that we name it, that we shame it and that we change it. We cannot willfully or unknowingly look the other way.

Many of us sit in these very seats because of the efforts of the generations that came before us to address and tackle these problems. We owe it to our constituents, we owe it to the generations to come, and we owe it to the children not yet born to do the work required to eradicate systemic racism and its harmful impacts in Boston.

“A systemic ill requires a systemic cure. I am under no illusion that tackling racism will be easy; however, there is no other choice. I ask that you join me and I know that together we can set an example in the city of Boston to the rest of the world, that we know how to address, that we are willing to address, and that we are going to do the work to address systemic racism and its ills.

“Thank you.”