Lansing City Council declares racism a public health crisis

Resolution forms another committee for diversity, equity and inclusion

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MONDAY, June 22 — The Lansing City Council voted unanimously tonight to declare racism a public health crisis in the capital city, paving a path for a more socially equitable future that local officials said can only be realized by first recognizing that clear racial disparities exist.

“Each of us knows this is a symbolic gesture until we start taking action,” said Council President Peter Spadafore, noting that the City Council will also undergo implicit bias training later this fall.

The resolution states that a pattern of systemic racism, rooted in slavery and segregation, has unfairly disadvantaged Black residents both in the city of Lansing and across the country. It also cites the grossly disparate outcome of historic redlining practices and the construction of I-496.

“We as a governmental body have a responsibility to ensure an optimal quality of life for all of our Black Lansing residents,” tonight’s resolution reads. “City Council issues a call to action to address the root causes of racism that affect all members of our society on a local — urban and rural — state and national level and demands action from all levels of government and society.”

The resolution further states that Black residents have been unjustly limited in access to various community resources and have faced a disproportionate level of major health issues, including reduced life expectancy, higher rates of infant and maternal mortality and more lead poisoning.

“There is clear data to illustrate that racism negatively impacts the lives of Black people in our community,” the resolution reads, noting those disparities constitute an ongoing “crisis” in Lansing. “The current COVID-19 crisis and ongoing protests against police brutality have helped to highlight, now, more than ever, that racism, not race, causes disparities for Black Americans.”

The resolution also calls for the establishment of a standing Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion designed to establish policies that can improve life for the local Black community. The committee will also assess internal city policies and procedures to better ensure racial equity.

Mayor Andy Schor’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, which was formed more than a year ago, has already been tasked with a similar focus area and carries similar responsibilities.

Other than “committing its full attention to improving the quality of life and health of our Black residents,” the resolution makes no concrete commitments by the Council or city officials.

Officials recognized that meaningful action will need to follow to generate meaningful results. Spadafore said a series of community “listening sessions” will guide those next steps.

Mayor Andy Schor announced the city’s first concrete response to the ongoing social unrest last week in the form of a one-page document titled “Racial Justice and Equity Community Action Proposals.” It’s only an outline, and not much of the plan — including the hire of a diversity officer, more training and a police budget review — has yet been put into action.

The Council resolution, officials said, is designed to keep city officials laser-focused on plans to bolster diversity, equity and inclusion across all departments. Long-term plans also call for community input amid a growing call to shift resources away from police enforcement and into more community- and education-based programs.

Additionally, the City Council voted tonight to table a proposal from the mayor to create an “Equity and Anti-Discrimination Fund” using $100,000 from Police Department budget, $20,000 from the Mayor’s Office and $50,000 from the Human Relations and Community Services office.

The fund will be designed to allocate funds to community organizations that are working on racial equity initiatives in Lansing.

All Council members indicated their support for the proposed fund, but to amend the budget under the City Charter it would have required another meeting before July 1, when the new budget takes effect. Since there is no plan yet how the money will be spent, the Council chose to wait till next month to act on the proposal.

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners — with support from local Black Lives Matter activists — unanimously passed a similar declaration earlier this month, which had already labeled racism a public health crisis across the county, which also includes the city of Lansing.

Council members said the city’s resolution was almost an exact replica of the county declaration.

Commissioner Derrell Slaughter, who proposed that resolution, said it was necessary but also recognized that words only go so far. The largely symbolic gesture will only lead to tangible results if the community (and elected officials) stay focused on bridging remaining racial divides.

Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon summed up the county’s overarching sentiment in a statement issued earlier this month: “Dismantling systemic racism requires vigilance, oversight, accountability, transparency and a willingness to take a hard look at some of the worst parts of ourselves. Only through aggressive and intentional action can we find solutions and heal.”

Lansing’s Police Board of Commissioners will also host a virtual public meeting to discuss use of force policies in the city at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The city also has plans to host a larger town hall event centered on racial equity at some point in the near future, officials said.

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