One Pennsylvania county is ready to call racism what it is: a public health crisis. This week members of the Allegheny County Council approved the “symbolic motion,” according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, despite it receiving pushback on the language.
“This is not just a Black issue,” said Democratic council member DeWitt Walton during the county council teleconference on Tuesday. “This is an issue that impacts the totality of Allegheny County and our nation as a whole because while it has health implications, it also has economic implications. And it places greater burden, greater disparities, on all of our society.”
The council members were particularly interested in receiving the designation because of the disparities seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The council cited the way the virus has disproportionately affected Black Alleghenians as a reason to issue this call to action. According to the racial data collected by Allegheny County, Blacks account for at least 19 percent of COVID-19 cases, while making up just 13.4 percent of the population.
Black lawmakers say that the health disparities have been present in Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County as a whole, for some time. A 2019 study conducted by the city’s Gender Equity Commission revealed that the lifespan of Black women and men is not on par with that of their White peers. Black health care professionals also said they have witnessed the discriminatory treatment of patients in local hospitals.
Despite the data, there were some members of the Allegheny County Council who took issue with the notion. One claimed he had spoken to a nurse administrator at a local hospital who never saw racial bias at play. According to local NPR affiliate WESA, another claimed that “White privilege is something that’s just been created by the left to try to create division,” and disagreed with the assertion that White people were responsible for racist structures now found in nearly every facet of American life.
Still, the vote passed 12-3, with all 12 democrats voting to approve the motion. Allegheny Councilwoman Olivia Bennett, the lead sponsor of the bill, said she appreciated “the confidence and the recognition that this is important work that needs to be done throughout the county.” The legislation, according to WESA, also recommends that the county should undertake efforts to expand education on racism and its health impacts.