Montgomery County declares racism public health crisis

A large group of protesters, some with and some without masks, protested near the Federal Building in downtown Dayton last weekend. Large groups of people crowd together in closed quarters during these protest. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Montgomery County Commissioners on Tuesday declared racism a public health crisis, calling it a root cause of poverty that negatively affects well-being and leads to disparate outcomes in many areas of life.

“We want to make it explicitly clear that we are against racism and inequality in any form,” said Judy Dodge, Montgomery County Commission president. “We are committed to taking action and investing our resources to help our community become more equitable. The passage of this resolution is only the beginning.”

In passing the resolution, commissioners said the county will work to dismantle racism and create equity through policies focused on the delivery of human and social services, job training and employment access, economic development and evenhanded justice.

Dayton city commissioners will vote on a similar measure today.

MORE: Dayton considering declaring racism a public health crisis

County efforts include developing a new stand-alone Career and Innovation Center at the Westown Shopping Center on West Third Street and committing resources to micro-enterprise grants targeting small, minority, women and veteran-owned businesses.

The county will also put a greater commitment on addressing housing opportunities, food access and to reducing infant mortality, according to the resolution.

Commissioners also called on Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio General Assembly leaders to declare racism a state public health crisis.

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Franklin County passed a similar measure in May — days before George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer — and asked Montgomery County to adopt one as well, said Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.

But Floyd’s death, igniting weeks of protest and moral reckoning, made passing the resolution a priority, Lieberman said.

“The national outcry over the continued and far-too-often murder by law enforcement of black men and women in our country is long overdue. And it’s truly a world outcry,” she said. “We believe this violence must end. I fully support the Black Lives Matter protesters in our communities and across the country, and all peaceful protest. And I am more than hopeful that we are going to make progress to eliminate racism. Many eyes have been open, I believe over the last few weeks.”

MORE: Local memorial service honors George Floyd, others killed by police

Lieberman said the county is taking anti-racism actions designed to actively eliminate racism by “changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.”

A recent Dayton Daily News analysis found that inequities plague Dayton-area black residents throughout their lives. They face a far higher infant mortality rate, often grow up in neighborhoods that lack access to the same opportunities as white residents, face a widening income gap compared to white residents, and frequently die younger.

The black-white wage gap is wider in the region than in other large metropolitan areas, segregation is greater and opportunities for black children fewer, data show.

MORE: Data shows inequities span cradle to grave for local black residents

Felicia Hill, Health Committee chair with the NAACP Dayton Chapter, said she is hopeful but if the county wants to call this a crisis, it deserves full-scale attention.

“This is a start in the right direction,” she said. “But we need actual physical health care facilities within the community, within our school systems, things in place that will truly have results,” she said. “When we have a crisis, all-out effort needs to be done and shone on every level.”

Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said Tuesday’s resolution was backed by the region’s business community, including the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, which announced its support Tuesday for the declarations the county and others being considered by the city of Dayton and the state.

“We stand with Montgomery County, the City of Dayton, the State of Ohio, and its residents as we work jointly to dismantle racism in our community,” read a statement by the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “We will take an intentional look at the effort that is currently underway through chamber programs and initiatives and seek ways to improve.”

Montgomery County will not let the resolution’s words merely sit on paper, said Commissioner Carolyn Rice.

“This has deep meaning,” she said. “We will work hard to make these things happen. Even if we just move it a little bit at a time, we’re going to move it in the right direction.”

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