SOUTHWEST, Fla. — Virginia is the first state in the South to declare racism a public health emergency.
Around the country, more than 180 cities and counties have made the move.
The new law tackles five areas:
- Establishes a watchdog on policies addressing racism
- Makes a commission to examine racial inequity in state laws permanent
- Defines racism and health equity
- Promotes community engagement
- Establishes racial bias training for all state-elected officials, staff and state employee
To further understand the idea of racism as a public heath emergency, FOX 4 reached out to the Southwest Florida community.
We spoke to a local mom, an epidemiologist, a co-chair for the Showing Up for Racial justice organization, and the president of the Lee County NAACP.
Dr. James Koopman studies diseases and their impact on society.
“In terms of what causes a public heath crisis, it’s things that cause increasing disease in a population. In that sense, racism is definitely a public health crisis.”
FOX 4 asked each interviewee to give an example of how racism shows up in our world.
“We see it. We see it everyday. We see it in maternal health,” Ellen Hemrick, from Showing Up for Racial Justice explains.
“The criminal justice system,” James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP says.
Dr. Koopman says that not addressing areas challenged by racism is similar to any other virus or problem that challenge society as a whole.
“If you allow a bad situation to fester, it makes the situation worse.”
As for the solution to racism as a public health emergency, the interviewees weighed in on their recommendations.
“Do a self-evaluation and stop it,” Crystal Johnson, a local mom says.
“We have to get to those critical level of changes where the dynamics of the society changes, ” Koopman says.
“White people have to get a lot more comfortable talking about race, and not get defensive. I’m not responsible for the things that have happened in the past, but I sure am responsible for the things that are happening right now and how to fix it in the future,” Hemrick suggests.