Dayton city commission declares racism a public health issue

Local News

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Dayton city commissioners officially declared racism a public health issue during their virtual meeting on Wednesday. It comes one day after Montgomery County made a similar decision.

Officials say one of the first things they are doing is trying to form a group of experts, activists and organizations who can focus on racism as a public health issue over the long term, similar to Montgomery County’s Community Overdose Action Team that was created to tackle the opioid crisis.

Hours before Wednesday’s city commission meeting, members of the Clergy Community Coalition held a demonstration on the steps of city hall. Organizers praised the declaration of racism as a public health issue but also called on city leaders to bring more health care services to west Dayton.

“It’s always been an emergency for us,” said Bishop Richard Cox of the Clergy Community Coalition. “It was an emergency when they tore down Good Samaritan Hospital. And it’s an emergency now.”

“We know that we are not equipped to one, be proactive in what it is that we need to do to have people healthy on the west side of Dayton, and we are not prepared for disasters,” said Rev. Merritt Worthen, also of the Clergy Community Coalition.

During Wednesday city commission meeting, Mayor Nan Whaley also stressed the importance of turning the city’s declaration into action.

“If you’re talking something like systemic racism, police issues, there are branches of this, but we need to get to the trunk of the matter, and that’s going to require all of us coming together to work on it,” she said.

Commissioners made the declaration hours after Governor Mike DeWine announced several initiatives for police reform, and follows an earlier announcement from Mayor Nan Whaley this month outlining actions the city is taking to improve relations between the police department and the African American community.

“There are several things that we can point to in terms of health equity and a racial disparity,” said Dan Suffoletto of Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County. “One thing is the infant mortality rate where black babies are dying at a rate of two times that of white babies.”

Addressing those racial disparities will require a broad, collaborative approach between local leaders, community members and the private sector, Suffoletto explained.

“Housing, education, jobs,” he said. “All those things factor into how healthy you can be.”

Mayor Whaley said she hopes the city and Montgomery County can work together on the efforts to combat racism.

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