Hennepin County Board: Racism is a public health crisis

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday declaring racism a public health crisis.

"Due to racism, Black, Indigenous and people of color in Hennepin County statistically have poorer educational outcomes, earn less, and are less likely to own homes or have access to quality health care and jobs than White people. These disparities have lifelong impacts, including higher disease rates, and, as we’re seeing now, higher rates of COVID-19," the county wrote in a release.

Earlier this month, a county board committee passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, sending the resolution to the full Hennepin County Board. Officials said the resolution was prompted by several recent events, including the death George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody and the worldwide protests that followed.

According to the release, since 2017, the board has reviewed data that "clearly shows disparities in education, jobs, income, housing, justice, transportation and health for people of color living in Hennepin County."

"Ultimately this resolution is about the health and well-being of Hennepin County residents who have borne the brunt of racial discrimination and racial inequity through various different systems," said Commissioner Angela Conley, who introduced the resolution with Commissioner Irene Fernando.

"Year after year after year, we find ourselves as a state and ultimately as the largest county in this state ranking among the worst places to live for Black and Indigenous people. More and more across the country, professionals in the field of public health are saying that we need to name structural racism as the root cause of our work to eliminate disparities," she said.

“We have a foundation of disparity reduction within Hennepin County. We have racial equity [initiatives] within Hennepin County. We have had our staff take anti-racism training in Hennepin County. We have yet to name racism as one of the root causes of the disparities that we see in the 1.2 million people that we have been elected to serve. And I think it's due time that if we are to address a problem, if we are to address a systemic issue in our county as part of our work, then we have to name what that problem is."

Fernando urged her colleagues to stop “treating symptoms of disparities – such as poverty – and step back to see all the connections that got people there."

The resolution directs Hennepin County to:

  • Advocate for policies to improve health outcomes for Black, Indigenous and communities of color
  • Support initiatives to dismantle systemic racism, seek partnerships with local groups with track records of confronting racism, and promote community efforts to amplify issues of racism
  • Incorporate racism and the public health crisis into budget hearing materials
  • Communicate with the board in three months about its timeline to take significant steps