LANSING – Ingham County officials are working to declare racism a public health crisis.
Commissioner Derrell Slaughter, D-Lansing, said it is his personal obligation to champion that resolution. He said racism is happening all over the country and he’s seen it from his personal perspective and that of his family.
“We’ll be passing that very soon,” Slaughter said. “We are working on it.”
Black Lives Matter Lansing hosted a forum with Ingham County leaders and Mayor Andy Schor Wednesday to set an agenda of goals to help address systemic inequities in the country and Greater Lansing. The group’s first goal was to call racism a public health crisis, a request several county leaders agreed to quickly.
Angela Waters Austin, president and CEO of One Love Global, said she first reached out to the Ingham County Health Department a year ago during the rise of white supremacy and now it’s become a “global pandemic.”
“Racism is a public health issue,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said.
While a county health officer’s powers are broad, Vail said it’s up to a governing entity to adopt by resolution such a declaration. She said that makes the declaration a rule and expresses the will of that body.
“Racism hurts the health of individuals by denying them the opportunity to attain the highest health,” Ingham County Medical Officer Dr. Adenike Shoyinka said. “Racism is a barrier to health. It is a barrier to fair and equal distribution of that health.”
“It’s a disease in an of itself and we need to address it as such,” Shoyinka said.
When attention turned to Schor, the list of requests was much longer. Speakers asked the mayor to defund the police department, put money back into organizations to support black youth and communities, and even resign.
Schor said he’s seen great progress within the police department with training and diversity initiatives, but cuts cannot be made without sacrificing services residents depend on in Lansing. He said pulling money from the police would lessen violent crime initiatives and road patrols.
Since taking office two years ago, Schor said he’s seen improvements for the lives of Lansing residents. He’s seen more diverse individuals hired into city departments, supported public schools and created a better quality of life for residents.
Waters Austin said if Schor had done any of the things he pledged to protect the city’s black community, no one would be where they are today. She called on the mayor to resign.
“I made an ask of you. I asked you to resign, I’d like an answer,” Waters Austin said.
“I’m not planning to resign right now,” Schor said. “I have a commitment to serving the people of Lansing.”
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